the cherry on top

I had a week of orchestral work recently that included a large complex work that I had not played before. I was booked to play a small role in that complex work, so I did not spend a lot of time preparing. I did not study the score and listen to the youtube clip and I did not do a few complete run throughs with a recording. The music was only available a few days before, but sadly this piece showed up two of my many flaws - complex rhythms and flutter tonguing.  

On top of all that, on the first day of rehearsals I was asked to play yet another different part that I had also never seen before. That first day I played lots of wrong notes, noticed by the conductor, got lost, played wrong rhythms and came in in the wrong spots. 

I think in the past I would have become quite stressed in these sort of situations - hooked up into the 'I need to be perfect' stories, 'everyone is listening and I am doing a terrible job' and a very strong thought was 'I am so stupid that I can't sight read this'.

In the past I would have done hours and hours of practice after the first day and become really stressed about it. This is what drove obsessive practicing, and led to a shoulder injuries that hurt for many years. I felt embarrassed that I was not properly prepared.

I don't like turning up to work not having done the preparation, but in the moment, I chose to accept the fact that I was not 'perfect' and this made me feel vulnerable. I could not wear my bullet proof perfection as a shield. I was willing to sit with the vulnerability that imperfection brings for me. 

Sitting in that discomfort I asked myself 'what are you so scared of?' and the answer was 'They will not let me play this part and he will take it off me and give it to someone else to play'.

Sitting with that question on stage during the rehearsal, a memory came to me, an oft remembered incident from my childhood:

I was only about 12 years old when I was promoted to the prestigious position of soprano cornet in the local brass band that I played in. I lived for that band. It was my spiritual home and I felt loved and appreciated within the members of that band. 
For those not a part of that world, soprano cornet is the highest instrument and as my beloved bandmaster used to say 'it is not just the icing on the cake, but the cherry on top'. The soprano adds the sweetness on the top of the band cake.
We were rehearsing for an important national competition and I was struggling to play one of the solos in a particular piece. After a few frustrating and unsuccessful attempts on my part, the bandmaster decided to take the solo from me and give it to one of the older and more experienced players in the band.
I was so shocked and devastated. I felt like I had lost my special place and a huge hole was ripped out of me in that very moment. I can still see myself walking towards home, down that long gravel path, soprano cornet case in hand, sobbing out my little, broken heart.

I remembered that story on stage during the rehearsal, noticed the remembrance of that young girl and felt an urge to cry. I noticed how easily I could have been dragged right back there and I noticed the memory of that feeling still living on in that very moment forty years later.

As I read this through to make an ending to this blog post, I see even more strongly how that incident was a pivotal point in my developing intense performance anxiety. I have written another blog about my first performance experience, but I think this incident was more crucial. This really set me up with the core belief that I need to be really good or I will loose my place, I will lose the love of the people that have made me feel loved and appreciated. 

I will no longer be the cherry on top.