Monday, November 10, 2014


I have a complicated relationship with musical stress. Putting myself into situations where it's inevitable provides motivation to practice with greater care and attention than I might otherwise but also can tip me over into being an emotional mess. This past week is a case in point.

This was what my week looked like:

Sunday: 5 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.: orchestra rehearsal
Monday: 10 a.m. - 11 a.m.: trio rehearsal
Tuesday: 10 a.m. - 12 noon: teaching (moved students here because of recording session and because they had the day off of school because of the election); 5 p.m. - 10 p.m.: recording session
Wednesday: 1:45 p.m. - 2:45 p.m.: piano lesson (moved because of trio rehearsal); 4 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.: teaching (only a half hour, but requires driving to and from; this week, I went directly there after my piano lesson, having rescheduled both because of the trio rehearsal on Thursday)
Thursday: 11 a.m. - 12 noon: trio rehearsal at the church; evening was dinner and a movie with my husband.
Friday: full day off to freak out.
Saturday: 10 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.: orchestra rehearsal; ~ 2 hours to chill, then 3 p.m. - 5 p.m., trio concert and reception.
Sunday: 2:15 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.: sound check + concert (at another church); 5 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.: orchestra rehearsal; post rehearsal, I went out to dinner with a friend from the orchestra, got home around 9:30.

The recording session came about this way: A friend of the couple I've been playing quartets with is an amateur composer, and he wrote what amounts to a cantata in memory of his wife. He decided to go all out and have a professional recording done, and he asked the couple to put together a string quartet, so they asked me to be the cellist. The music wasn't difficult, but the recording session was grueling -- five hours for about a half hour of music (which, I might add, is not unusual). The recording engineer called out every tiny slip of intonation, bow, or ensemble. If any of us tapped a foot or counted under our breath, it showed up on the recording and we had to redo that measure. Plus, we were being video-recorded, and you all know how much I love that! Even though it was interesting to get immediate objective feedback on what sounded good and what didn't (and to verify that yes, those little oopsies that you think no one notices are indeed audible), after five hours of this under hot lights, with no dinner, I was wrung out.

The trio concert on Saturday was the culmination of all our work on this music. This could have been the fun part, after practicing together for half a year and performing the program a couple of times. But the place where we played was a church sanctuary, and though the acoustics were pretty good, the setup with the piano was dreadful. The piano was an indifferent Kawai baby grand that was in a box -- it looks like they might even have built this wall around the piano while the piano was sitting there. So there was no way to move it for the best sight lines. The flutist and I had to sit up on the altar as close to the piano as possible. I could only see either of them if I completely turned my head, and all I could see of the pianist was her face. At this point, we knew the music well enough to stay together sort of by instinct, but it was frustrating. Also, we didn't get much of an audience, so that was disappointing. We did get some nice feedback from the people who did attend, but oh well.

The concert on Sunday was when I played the Bach G major suite. I was stressing out about everything -- my bowing and fingering choices, my tempos, the fact that I didn't feel secure enough to play from memory, and how I was going to look. I reacted by sinking into a scarily black depression. My theory about why this happens is it's the body's way of coping with the stress, letting one retreat into a much more calming (though not fun) "I don't care" state. As it turned out, because I was in this state of calm, the recital went swimmingly. I used the music and played well. I got lots of nice compliments afterward. There is a recording but I haven't listened to it yet.

One interesting aspect is that at none of these events did I experience cold or shaking hands. The worst point of tension while I was playing the Bach was in my right leg, with a bit of shaky foot, but since I wasn't playing the piano it didn't really have an effect.

In between all of this, orchestra rehearsals started for next weekend's concert. We are playing warhorses: Mendelssohn's "Fingal's Cave" overture, the Haydn trumpet concerto, and Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. You know, that Beethoven is pretty hard, which you quickly realize when you hear an amateur orchestra try to play it. But I'm sure the audience will enjoy it way more than the usual odd pieces we play. Dress rehearsal is Friday, concert Sunday, and then I am done with prescheduled stress for a while -- at least until the next time I do this to myself.


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