Three Things

Yesterday was one of those really tough days that we all have at some point or another. It wasn’t all bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it had enough challenge and emotionally prickly stuff to bring me to my knees by the end of the day, completely tapped out. A rare thing for me, the self-proclaimed queen of all things positive and bright. Well, what can I say? Even Mary Poppins’ umbrella doesn’t open every once-and-a-while.

I felt off from the first moment my eyes opened in the wee hours of the morning. I had a dull sinus headache and a deep fatigue that another sketchy night of sleep did nothing to dispel. I went in and taught my early class, and then went to the recital hall to rehearse one of my favorite chamber pieces by Brahms for my upcoming recital. My best friend and duo partner is here in town for our conference presentation and performance this weekend, and she came to sit in the hall to listen.

Me with Diane (right).

For some inexplicable reason, I felt nervous having her there, I think because I admire her so much and I never want to let her down. I felt off, stiff inside, and I began to do what I could to relax and focus on the timeless music. However, as the beautiful strains of the cello began, I felt myself revert back to a dark place, one that I really thought I had valiantly battled and conquered years ago. A place in which I had allowed someone to take away my belief in myself, my confidence. I felt like a child again, a child on stage surrounded by world-class musicians, a child that was not good enough.

Performing is an incredibly mental exercise- I tell my students this all the time. We have to do the tough work to prepare and then let go, believing- knowing– that we will do the very best that we can do, and that will be enough. We have to believe that we can and will be successful- no one can do that for us, no matter how wonderful the cheerleader. It is not an arrogance, but a simple confidence born of rigorous practice and dedication to a goal.

Long story shorter, my confidence dissolved. And while the rehearsal wasn’t a total loss, I felt the tears come when we finished playing. I am on a wonderful new A clarinet, and my fingers don’t feel quite at home on it yet. That, on top of the tension I let invade my body made for notes that wouldn’t speak, which only spooked me and caused even more tension. A deadly cocktail. All the old feelings of unworthiness came crashing down on me. As soon as my colleagues left, the tears flowed and the sobs came and went. Diane gently encouraged me, watching me play and identifying the issue- tension and straightening in the ring finger of my right hand. One tone hole not sealed properly equals trouble in River City. Something that could easily be fixed with focused work, but that will take time…something that I don’t have a lot of.

Diane and I went to lunch, and as my dearest friend of over thirty years has the gift to do, she helped me work through the issue, making me laugh, and making me think. She gave me hope. She had seen the change on stage, had seen me shut down, and had noticed what she thought the issue was. Then she took me by surprise when she asked me,

Tell me three things you like about your playing- no qualifiers. Just three things.

I froze; I who do all I can to build up my students and others, to remind them of their individual gifts, their beauty, their worthiness, could not name three things that I like about my own playing- could barely name one. I was flabbergasted and the tears came again. An epiphany of sorts…how can I truly help others be better performers unless I followed my own advice? I want to love performing, not dread the inevitable things that happen in live performance- and I want to fix anything that could cause preventable issues.

Diane gave me a plan of attack; I am to write down three things that I like about my playing after every practice session and performance. There is something good in every performance – we just tend to focus on the negatives and blow them out of proportion. It’s time for me to re-train my mind and leave the hurts from the past behind. Leave behind my giving power to my father and to past relationships to tear down my sense of worth. I have to follow my own teaching, acting my way into a new way of thinking. Not easy, but incredibly important- and- I am worth it. How fortunate I am to have a friend like Diane who is there for me in not only the best of times, but also the dark times to help me see myself in a different light, and to say the things that can only be said by the closest of friends with whom you share complete love and trust.

Just three things…I will report back. Soon.

4 thoughts on “Three Things

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this ! I am a young cellist and , at 58 years , a young-at-heart woman. I often feel discouraged by my play and feel I have to be so brave to keep playing after performances when I don’t feel I play well . I have never heard a professional musician or music teacher confess to feeling this way and it means more to me than you can ever know or than I can express! It helps me feel we’re all people , and we all need bravery, self-compassion , and appreciation . Thanks for being brave and honest in sharing this .

    1. Cathy,
      Thanks so much for your supportive words and for reading my blog. I am so glad to hear that my words helped to encourage you in some way- that always makes it worthwhile to me to share something that can be painful to write about. We are all human. Good luck to you! ❤️

  2. We are always our own worst critics. I’m so glad you had your friend there to help you find your way. She must be a rare jewel!! Hope your confidence returns bigger and better than before!

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