Saturday, April 05, 2008

Beethoven 6

I'm happy to say I nailed it, thankfully. I chipped one note, and that's not too bad. My late night practicing last night helped do the trick, as did me listening to Beethoven 6 in the car a few times and singing my part, as well as listening to it during the piano concerto, which I don't play. Man, it's a relief to have gotten through it, and to have played it well. At the end of the concert, our principal trumpet player leaned over to tell me I had done a good job, and added, "no one but us knows how hard it is what you just did." That made me feel good--and he's right. It's very challenging.

Let me try and describe what an alto trombone is, and why playing it is a challenge. My usual trombone is a tenor trombone, and the most important difference is that an alto is in a different key, in E flat, instead of B flat. What that means is that it's about 40% smaller. Being in a different key means that most of our notes are in different positions than they are on a standard trombone, and because it's 40% shorter, it also means that the positions are closer together, thus third position on an alto is more like second position on a regular trombone. Playing in tune can be a treacherous prospect! However, as long as you have the pitch in your ear, and are in the right position, all will be well. But then that's when the head games can so easily start in.

That's what started happening to me at the dress rehearsal. I had been playing well all week during rehearsals and feeling good about my alto trombone debut with the symphony. But last night, the voices in my head that I have to fight on a constant basis started singing the doubting chorus. I had to fight those during the performance too.

I had some thoughts pop in that tend to recur in my experience, and there were a few moments in the 35 minutes I had to wait on stage before I played in the fourth movement where I would gladly have run off stage and headed home. I think 90% of the time people have no idea what's going on in the heads of the musicians on stage. Last night, I was waging a battle that I've waged a thousand times, and at one point I just decided I was tired of it. There's almost an internal dialog you have with a split personality: one is a doubter and the other is a motivational speaker. The doubter started asking me what the heck I was doing, having the gall to play principal on alto trombone--who was I kidding that I could actually pull that off? I finally was ticked off enough to say in response, "I've heard that kind of bullshit a thousand times, and I always play well despite it, so I'm just not going to listen. I've got a job to do. In fact, when you show up, it's a good sign, because it just means I'm going to play well, so thanks for spouting your lies--I know everything will be fine." The performance coach that I worked with for awhile had a simple formula for dealing with the butterflies, and any of the other negative feelings or thoughts that go through one's head prior to performing. He urged me to choose to believe that every one of them was a sign that all would be well, and I've tried to operate that way ever since. Last night was a classic case where this is the choice I needed to make.

I've got to do it again tonight, and I'm sure it will be a battle again, but it's always easier when you have a winner under your belt.

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