Tag Archives: performing music

On Being a Member of a Great Orchestra

Azumi flute

I found this quote a while back when following a conversation about the future of classical music and classical music performers.

…Orchestral players are trained to become highly-skilled performers who can turn little black dots and lines and all kinds of mysterious indications into a free-sounding musical experience. The exhilarating experience of playing in the middle of a group of some 90 musicians with an inner freedom and [at] the same time, perfect inter-relatedness with the others as if being a member of one large body, as a communal achievement, an experience where the dead letter of the text has been internalized so strongly that the music freely floats as one voice in a communal synthesis, is the freedom which has been struggled for by years and years of study and training, carried by love for the art form. It is difficult to explain this if you are not an orchestral musician of a (good) orchestra yourself….  — JOHN BORSTLAP July 28, 2017

Yet, in my opinion, Mr. Borstlap describes only the very surface reality of the experience that is playing in a good, even great, orchestra, conducted by a good, and better, great conductor. There is absolutely no experience that I know of, save maybe that of performing in a seriously superior choir, that comes even close to it, certainly not the common experiences most players have in their performance history. It’s an immersive experience that transports the performer to heights and breadths of humble — yes, humble — awe and ecstasy. One is humbled that one has been gifted this experience, that one is worthy of it and of contributing to it.  And when it happens again and again, time upon time, then the realization that what you have in that group of musicians, bonded together by a conductor and by the scores you play, is priceless beyond scope. Everything else musical pales by comparison.

If there were one wish I could have for anyone who plays or yearns to play an instrument, it would be this experience. Sadly, that’s not possible. I could plant people amidst such an orchestral experience, yet they’d never really feel it. Oh, sure. They’d feel themselves immersed in the power of that sea of sound, in the energy of the musicians creating that sound, but they would lack one critical element — contributing to the creating of that moving sea of symphony. There is, in fact, nothing like it, and the proof comes at the end.

In the silence that follows the last note of the last bar played, breathing as one, the orchestra stills. And the audience, enraptured, holds that silence, seemingly interminably, until, all at once, something breaks the spell and, as one, erupts into applause, whistles, and cheers, tears streaming from some, laughter from others, giddiness or radiance from yet still others.

Or sometimes the music hasn’t even stopped when the audience breaks to its feet in wild applause, overwhelmed with the emotions stirred in them.

When it happens in rehearsal, though, and it does quite often when playing with a good orchestra, we all just sit, stunned by what we’ve accomplished, in a long moment of shared and humbled awe at ourselves and each other — at the fact that we just created a ‘moment’ in sound …that what we did was magical.

This is why I played. Those days are long over for me, but this is, to me, the ultimate experience in playing. It surpasses anything else one can do as a classical performer, and I wish, I really do, that every player could experience this, even just once.

 

Yes, We Might, But I’ve Got Red Light Fright

recording music and red light fright

I just finished a new page devoted to music here on the site, and, sharing it around, the question of whether we, that is, Forrest and I, are going to release an album came up. The answer is ‘yes’. Certainly, in time, we’ll be putting out one and several albums. And Forrest mentioned maybe doing a Christmas album this year. This would come after we get the rest of fifty-some songs and their videos on our release schedule out for free listening. For an album, though, I have to get over having my diaphragm seize up as soon as the red light comes on, because, right now, when that little red glow indicates to me that we’re live recording, suddenly my whole body becomes rigid, my fingers start to quake, and I can’t draw breath.

Flute playing requires the ability to breathe deeply, and breathing deeply requires a relaxed, engageable, working diaphragm, never mind that vibrato is impossible when the thing (the diaphragm) that runs the bellows (lungs) is in lock-down. Vibrato comes from control of that sheaf of muscles, and, when it’s seized up, well, it just doesn’t work. At all. So, getting over Red Light Fright is one of my major hurdles.

Red Light Fright is a lot like stage fright, in some ways, and I used to have really bad stage fright — so bad, in fact, that I’d pass out cold, toppling face down. The first time it happened, during a music jury, I damaged flute and my face, both. Henceforth, at music juries, they always had somebody standing next to me to catch my flute and me as I toppled stiffly, felled-tree-like, face-first toward the floor. (For those unfamiliar, ‘juries’ are when you perform, standing before your teachers and other conservatory staff whose job it is to judge you, your performance, and your progress since the last jury. For me, they happened every six weeks throughout the year.)

Over time, because of repeatedly being forced to perform on stage in front of audiences at recitals, juries, and in concert, I got over my stage fright. I remember the night it happened, when, suddenly, finally, I looked out over the sea of upturned faces all waiting for me to play Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto #3 arranged for solo flute and orchestra, that I was unafraid, not tense, not frightened, but, rather, supercharged …exhilarated, even happy and excited to be there. And, when I began to play, it was like I was drawing power from that audience. This was such an unusual experience that that night is vividly branded in my memory. It was my first time ever as a soloist that I actually enjoyed playing the flute when somebody else was listening. (Orchestra performance was always a joy. I never suffered stage-fright when deeply embedded in the middle of an orchestra. Only when having to play as a soloist.)

How bad was my stage fright? Well, usually when stepping on stage to perform, I’d be quaking. I’d be blind to anything and everything, my soul, my spirit, and my brain crushed down deep inside this dark, internal cave, just overwrought. All feeling in my hands and body left. My legs would be lead. I would be inside a dark tunnel, barely able to see.  It’s why I always knew my pieces so well that I could play them even in that state …because I was always in that state whenever I had to perform, or even practice, around anyone, even just Mom, Dad, or a teacher, never mind some one or many strangers where the focus was on me. So, I always knew my repertoire so well that, no matter what happened …provided I was able to stay upright, on my feet (You play standing when performing as flute soloist.), I could play the piece flawlessly …on auto-pilot.

That night, though, for the first time in my life, I came out of my shell. I actually PLAYED, interacting with the audience, enjoying their reactions, their expressions, their attention, their empathy with me and mine with them.  Suddenly, the audience became my friend.  They were gifting to me their attention in exchange for me gifting to them the glorious sound of wonderfully composed music.  Our participation in the event of that music being released to the universe at that moment in space and time was a mutual expression of and participation in utter joy — a celebration of sound.

It was a huge breakthrough, and one I’ve never, ever forgotten. And, from that night on, I’ve never again felt embarrassed or shy of performing live in front of an audience, not even if and when mistakes happen.  Mistakes on stage don’t bother me anymore.

But the red light? Wow.

Red Light Fright — now that’s a whole different experience. It’s a fear of making a mistake and ruining the take. It’s the devastation of letting down the other player(s) who did get all his/her/their parts right. No matter how well I’m playing prior to that, no matter how relaxed I am, as soon as that little red light comes on, the terror rises, the freeze-down and shaking starts, and the stress level goes through the roof.  It weighs as soon as, and only upon, that little red light coming on. And getting Red Light Fright practically ensures that I am going to flub something. Guaranteed.

So, I’m working on getting over Red Light Fright by constantly doing it, by recording myself repeatedly, staring at that light as I record, that light that makes my body tense, my breath get short, my fingers quiver. This, like stage fright, will vanish. Somehow, someway. With time and effort and persistence. Call me resolute!

XLR cable