Breaking Through

I am working through some tough stuff right now, old demons that have once again come to haunt me. Truthfully, they have never been very far away. When they make their appearance, I feel crippled by fear and doubt in my abilities. It is as if my core is a rose bud, tightly bound and unable to break free and blossom, become what I know I can be. It is incredibly frustrating as a musician, feeling as though my emotions are handcuffed, a bird unable to sing.

In those moments, I can still see him at the back of the recital hall, notepad in hand, there to ‘help’ me by writing down every perceived fault, waiting to share them with me at the end of each performance, a determined effort to break me. In those days, I gave my power over to him, enabled him to tear down every carefully built piece of confidence in myself and in my musical abilities. I wanted so badly to please him, to have his approval, all the while knowing I would never truly win it, no matter what I did, no matter how hard I tried. There is no doubt in my heart it is why I do my best to be encouraging to my students, because I never want them to feel this way. Ever.

Practice bud…

I played for my best friend on this rainy afternoon, probably the only person in the world who knows my past and that I could trust to bare my musical soul to in this way. When she critiques, it is out of love for me and a desire to help. Even when what she says is difficult to hear, I am grateful for her honesty. As she has done throughout our long friendship, she spoke the truth, helping me become aware of things I am too inside of myself to see. As we worked, I could feel the barrier so clearly, a thick glass wall that I can see through, but sometimes can’t pass through…and I want so badly to shatter that damn glass into dust, because on the other side of that glass is freedom.

Peace is on the other side…

I went into my rehearsal the next day hearing Diane’s words in my head, the mantras to help me focus on the reality of the situation, and not the ghosts that distort that reality. She reminded that I have earned my place playing with these wonderful musicians, that they enjoy playing with me. She told me she was waiting to hear my three things, three things that I liked about my playing after the rehearsal.

Another practice bud…

I can choose what to focus on in my life, choose to see my strengths and my talents, choose to focus on what could go right instead of what could go wrong. It is so true that what we think, we become. The key is letting go of fear, so much easier said than done, but incredibly liberating when it happens. Focus on the good things, do the hard work, and those good things will come back to you. I teach this to my students all of the time, but sometimes the teacher must become a student again and again. I always want my students to know that they are not alone in dealing with performance anxiety- people of all ages and all levels struggle with it every day, and there are so many ways to counteract it with time.

The Brahms Trio began with the cellist’s gorgeous opening phrase, I took a deep breath, letting myself fall off of the precipice and into the music as I made my entrance. I felt the tightly bound rose bud inside of me begin to unfurl, the bird begin to sing, as that glass wall shattered all around me. I felt like I was soaring. I will do my best not to rebuild it ever again, and even if I do, I know what to do, how do battle with those demons. What I think, I become, and I choose to be free.

10 thoughts on “Breaking Through

  1. Brava! I’m so glad you have been able to break through the glass. My son is a violist and the performance anxiety is a real problem for many. He is fortunate enough to be able to play under pressure – it actually makes him better. I wish you could record some of your music (even a practice) and embed it into your post – I for one love woodwinds!

  2. You are so very lucky to have such a good friend. They make a world of difference, don’t they? I am in the process of a divorce, and my friends, in addition to my kids, have just been my lifeline.

    1. Good friends truly are priceless. I am so sorry to hear about your divorce. I’ve been there and it is such a tough time. However, it can lead to much happier days, and I wish that for you. ❤️

  3. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think for artists the self-examination process can be especially cruel. For me it was always what was staring back in the mirror, and it could *never* satisfy me enough. It has only been in the last ten years or so of my life that I’ve begun to realize how pointless and silly that unreasonable, unrealistic, nervous-making critiquing exercise was. The worst moment in my young life came when I performed poorly in a spring performance at a time when my mom was my primary instructor (baggage for days): we had live accompaniment on the stage with us, a wonderful classical guitarist who played a Bach medley. It should have been so sweet and beautiful. Instead I danced the steps like a robot with an expressionless, just-get-through-this face: it was precisely how I felt. And at the end of all that my mom’s disappointment was written all over her face. Some of my high school teachers had come to see me dance that day, and I was so paralyzed by fear that I would not be perfect, which is precisely what came to pass. It was a moment of enormous humiliation for me. Later on in my early twenties when I was dancing out west I felt more comfortable on the stage, maybe because I did not know the people sitting in the audience.Years later when I watched my own students in a performance at American Ballet Theatre’s JKO School I saw only joy and self-assurance on their faces and was overjoyed that my own fear had not superimposed itself on them. Life is too short: you are a beautiful human being and artist, Denise. Banish the demon from the kingdom and keep on playing with wild abandon like you did!~xxoo

    1. Deb, thank you for sharing this with me. I am so sorry that you went through that. The dialogues that go on in our heads can be crippling. I am doing my best to rewrite my own inner dialogue, and hope it will help me be a better teacher and performer in the process. ❤️

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s