Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Tuning Slide: 2.20- Playing Together

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music

◦ Steve Carlton was one of the premier pitchers of the 1960s to 1980s. In 1972, with the Philadelphia Phillies, Carlton had a win-loss record of 27-10 and a remarkable earned run average of 1.97. When Carlton did not pitch, the team was 32-87. No pitcher in the twentieth century has won as high a proportion of his team's victories (45.8%).
◦ In 2016 Brian Dozier had 42 home runs, the best of his career. He was tied for 3rd in major league baseball. His team, the Minnesota Twins floundered at the bottom of the league.

As great and wonderful as these statistics are for the individual player, they show something else. It is very difficult for a team to make it if they only have one great player. Carlton, Dozier, and others like them stand out because they have a great deal of talent that can surpass the teams they play with. But the team needs more than they are capable of giving.

I thought of this again as I looked at those four things we as musicians are supposed to pay attention to:
  • Music was #1
  • Fellow musicians #2
  • The audience is #3 and
  • You, the individual musician, are #4.
In other words, it isn’t all about me. It is “us.”

Jason Bergman, in the October 2016 Journal of the International Trumpet Guild, interviewed the trumpet section of the Dallas Symphony. Ryan Anthony, principal trumpet said,
You know, a principal player is only as good as the section. Specifically, he’s as good as the second trumpet allows him to be. It’s always up to Kevin how well I’m going to do. I always trust Kevin and know that any time I sound good it’s because he’s right there with me. (ITG Journal, October, 2016, p. 90)
Music is #1, but who you are playing alongside is #2. In order to perform the best that you can, and do justice to the music itself, you have to be aware of what the other musicians are doing. You have to know your place in the piece and your role in the group. I said earlier this season that a composer writes a fourth part for a reason- she wants a fourth part; it does something for the music. Whatever part you are playing can seriously impact the other other musicians, the music, what the audience hears, and finally your own feelings about what you are doing. See how all four of those fit together?

It happened to me again on Christmas. The quintet was playing a really fun and exciting piece as our final prelude number. Somewhere, somehow about 8 measures into the piece I had a very brief moment when I defocused. My ADD had a “squirrel” moment. In a piece like that, even a brief mini-second is enough to get lost. I got lost. Because it was a newer number I was not as clued into the whole sound of the group as I could be. It was not a big disaster, but it was enough. For about 16 or so measures the group was relatively lost. The congregation listening to us might have just thought that it was a kind of weird arrangement. As a group, though, we had some difficulty getting back together until what was obviously a transition point in the piece.

It ended well. The brass accompaniment to the opening and closing hymns was superb. No one but us will probably ever remember the prelude falling apart. But I re-learned several things in the process:

1. Focus is essential. Maintaining it can be tough. I have come to realize that a significant part of what used to be “performance anxiety” has become more like the inability to stay focused. I can get distracted by a movement in the audience. I don’t usually get distracted by my own thoughts, although it does happen. When I think of it as “performance anxiety” then I do get distracted by myself. But it is usually that other movement. It is one of the things I must work on. I am better, but I am still working on it.

2. Rehearsal is essential. As we have heard, practice is for us to learn our part; rehearsal is to learn how our part fits with everyone else’s. Obviously I have gotten lost before in a performance. (See #1). In a number of our pieces we all know the piece well enough to get back without a train wreck. For me, this incident showed how important those rehearsals are for the sound of the whole group together! If I know my part well enough, I can then stay focused at rehearsal and know the rest of the parts.

3. Don’t panic. I have learned not to react when I get defocused. When I was younger I tended to feel like the world had just fallen apart and was only going to get worse. It is impossible to regain any focus when that happens. The fight or flight syndrome will automatically kick in. Mindfulness, stress reduction, centering can then be used to stop the panic. With enough practice of doing this when panic isn’t happening, just a quick breath, switch in thought, or some internal cue can being things back to center.

4. Listen. When I am no longer on the edge of some form of panic, self-induced or other, I can take a moment and hear what’s happening. If my time in rehearsal has been effective, I can more easily find my way back to where I’m supposed to be. The feel of the piece, the forward movement of the song, the groove at work will guide me in the right direction.

5. Get focused again. With all things back in place- or heading in that direction, it’s back to focus and move on. The music regains its #1 place, I am in tune with the other musicians (#2), the audience gets to hear the music (#3), and I’m in the right place in my head. (#4)

It takes longer to write or read this than it does for it to happen. Like all else in what we are doing, we need to develop the skills. Next week I will look at some of the ways we can learn and develop those skills. That is important since performance is not the only place where we can get defocused, lost in our thoughts, issues, problems, or stress.

How we do anything can become how we do everything!

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