My husband never wants to hear about the difficulty of trying to neatly thread the ensemble needle between the flutes and the celli, or what the intonation challenges were. He wants an answer that’s more along the lines of “It was great.” So why do I almost never say that?
This week I came home from two different concerts with two different answers. One concert felt much more successful to me than the other. The audiences were equally enthusiastic about the concerts. But I found one much more satisfying than the other.
And that’s really why I find it so difficult to tell someone how any concert was. My point of view is subjective and completely wrapped up in how my performance felt at the time.
It is almost impossible, I think, to be objective about your own performance. We are so highly sensitized to every detail of our playing that we lose the big picture. We practice to make every note, every phrase exactly the way we know it should be. And then the adrenalin kicks in. Fingers are less reliable, the performance space sounds different, or the temperature isn’t quite comfortable. Every little variation in our environment or our playing becomes a huge wart on the complexion of the concert.
Have you ever had a really terrible concert, where nothing you played went well, and then afterward people who should know told you it wasn’t that bad?
They probably weren’t lying to you or just trying to make you feel better. Their experience of the concert was from the outside, sort of bird’s eye view. Your experience was more like the view of the worm in the bird’s beak.
With all the holiday performances coming up in the next few weeks, it would be a good idea to get some perspective and set some healthy and helpful guidelines for assessing our performance.
1. Accept compliments graciously and with a smile. This isn’t just being polite. Your smile will help you feel more relaxed and at ease, and calm any residual jitters or anxiety.
2. Your performance does not equal the concert. The concert as experienced by the audience is much more than just how you played. And even if you played poorly, that doesn’t mean the concert was bad. Even when the quarterback throws an interception in a football game, his team can still win.
3. Understand that your perception is skewed. Listen to the honest evaluations of people you trust, like your teacher. Believe it or not, they are more likely to be right than you are.
4. Do not give in to pointless self-critique. True, it is helpful to learn what you could have done better and seek ways to improve. But often, we criticize ourselves in a way that touches our raw emotions rather than our intellect. This will not make your next performance easier!
5. Find something excellent about the concert to remember. Maybe you made that crescendo exactly the way you wanted. Perhaps the audience loved the music on the program. Maybe someone thanked you for playing. Hold that good thing in your memory. That is real.
So how was the concert? It was great!