Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Tuning Slide - Perception is Reality

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

Don't be afraid,
just play the music.
― Charlie Parker

As a counselor, one thing I always have to keep in mind is that when someone sees reality a certain way, they believe it. For them it IS reality. It doesn't matter whether it is true or imagined. Reality is often what we perceive it to be. So when they come into my office or group for therapy I have to start where they are- even if I know it to be false or mis-perceived.

As we pick up our horn to practice or to perform, what we consider reality will govern what we do next.

For years I believed I could not play a solo.

I was right. I couldn't play a solo. I would always mess it up. Even though I kept at it in church, for example, if I had a organ or piano and trumpet duet I never, ever got it right. Never. Something would always go wrong. I would miss a count and therefore come in early or late. I would miss a sharp or flat and play a discordant note. Any one of a number of things happened every time. Most people didn't notice it as significant most of the time, but I did.

"See," I would say to myself, "you can't play a solo."
I was proving the truth of Henry Ford's statement:
Whether you think you can,
or you think you can't--
you're right.
― Henry Ford
Fortunately I loved playing trumpet so much I never allowed it to stop me from trying or from continuing to play in bands. I would avoid solos, even in band. My trumpet soloing above even 55 other musicians would send my heart into high gear, the adrenaline would flow, the fight or flight mechanism would kick in- and I would mess it up.

Over and over the refrain- you can't solo, you can't solo, you can't!

My perception of reality was true- even if it wasn't.

Note that this was not a fear of being in front of people. I have been in public for 50 years preaching, radio DJ, cable TV host. I could stand and talk to hundreds of people and not be nervous. Put a trumpet in my hand and make me solo in front of a handful- forget it. I can't do that. So said my perception of reality.

So what happened, esp. since I wouldn't be writing about it if it hadn't changed?

My first step was to work with a teacher. Just to play in his presence was a big step. He gave me some assignments; I worked on them; I improved.

Second, I was invited to join a brass quintet. When there are only five of you, each part is, in essence, a solo. We had a lot of fun practicing and developing a repertoire. When we finally did play in public performance I did okay, but I still messed up somewhere in each performance. Again, not always noticeable and never as badly as I had before, but I was building confidence in myself- and reality was shifting.

Third, I began playing some first parts in our community band. I found that most of the time I could do that! But that wasn't a solo. Again- perceptions were changing internally.

Fourth, one year ago this week the community band had a concert and with a solo on one number. My teacher was also playing first and he told me that I was playing it. I didn't argue. I figured that if he thought I was capable, maybe I was.

We worked on it in my lessons. I could play it very well- at home or in the lesson. But not at any rehearsal. Never.

I can't play solos!

But I refused to back down. (Stubborn ol' cuss!) The director never suggested I give it to someone else. The night before the concert we had our dress rehearsal and ...

Nope, still not right.

Concert night. The piece comes up. ("Valdres March" by Hanssen) It starts with my trumpet solo. I do okay. A little weak, but not particularly strong, either. Maybe I can solo? Maybe?

We get to the end and approach the D.C. back to the top- and the solo. One last chance. As we move along toward the D.C. I have a conversation with myself.
  • This music is supposed to be fun.
  • You're not having fun.
  • Have fun.
  • You can do it.
  • Screw it. 
  • Play the damn thing!!!
Yep- it worked.

I nailed it. My teacher gave me a thumbs up!

The first solo I played well in almost 50 years.

Reality made a seismic shift and I was now a "real" trumpet player again.

After the first of the year I will be doing some posts on the idea of "The Inner Game" about how we sabotage ourselves with a "Self One" and a "Self Two". That's what this is really about. It starts with our perception of reality. What we believe is what guides us. Reality or not, if we see it that way, that's the way it is. Don't confuse me with facts.

Unless you want to learn to do it differently. I didn't realize that's what I was doing when I started this journey about five or six years ago; when I said yes to the quintet or decided to take lessons again.

  • Get out of yourself and seek support and new insights.
  • Stretch yourself. Take some chances and risks. All you can do is make a mistake. It's not the end of the world.
  • Keep practicing.
  • Hear the perception of reality that is keeping you from doing what you can do.
  • Then do it.

That's what I did over the years in my life. It works with any task I think I can or can't do. The trumpet isn't any different.

And it is supposed to be fun. Enjoy it!

(BTW: Thanks to Warren, Steve, and Mike for sticking with me through these past years!)

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