Train wreck

Well it’s happened. I completely blew an opening seven bar solo at a quartet performance at the beginning of June. My first note was extremely sharp, though I didn’t realize that at the time, and I felt like I started on the wrong note and every note after that sounded off to me. With that running in my head, I just couldn’t recover; in fact, I had no idea how to recover, and the whole solo was a fiasco.

I knew how to play the solo and I had just played it forty minutes earlier in a practice room without any problems including hitting the first note in tune. I know I do have problems with intonation but not usually to the extreme of this first note. So I’ve been asking myself what happened that made this first note so bad and one of the reasons goes back to the last rehearsal. I played horribly at the last rehearsal. Everything was off. Intonation, tonguing, fingering, rhythm, you name it, I blew it.

The only excuse I have for this is that we changed the seating because I asked (and boy do I regret that request) not to sit on the outside during the performance. This put me next to someone on my left. During the rehearsal I couldn’t hear what I was playing and that completely messed me up. I only figured this out on my way home or I would have asked to move back to my usual spot. I realized that I have never played with another horn directly on my left. In one of the bands I’m in I sit where the 1st horn would typically sit and I have a sax next to me. In the other band I sit on the end of the horn section but I am slightly curved toward the clarinets so the 3rd horn’s bell is not that close to me. With such a bad rehearsal as the last rehearsal before the recital, my confidence that I could play anything was shot. I was mentally in a really bad place. I didn’t have a positive experience to remember and rely on, just a horrible one.

Another reason is that I was nervous. There’s not much I can do about that except play more in public. Today I had a performance with a small brass ensemble and I had a four bar solo which was fine however it was in the middle of the piece. This leads to yet another reason why I messed up the solo. I have figured out that I have first-note-itis. I played 1st horn in the college orchestra back in the early seventies and the 1st chairs were invited to play with the local pro orchestra. We were doing Tchaik 5 and I had to play the famous solo. I chipped the first note. The fact that I remember this and almost nothing else about college orchestra I think is significant. What I realized is that I only think about that first note even though the rest of the solo was fine. And I always think of that note. So even almost 40 years later I worry excessively about first notes. Now I have to figure out how to get it out of my head.

Summer 2010 –>

5 thoughts on “Train wreck

  1. Tina, I think this happens to almost everybody at some time or other. I go through periods where I am just fine playing for any kind of audience, then suddenly I’m a nervous wreck. Have you read any of Jeff Nelsen’s articles on Fearlessness? Here’s a link: I think the article on Magic Line Theory is especially helpful, though they are all good and very useful. Don’t give up!


    • Hi Becky,
      I didn’t know that he had articles online. I will read Jeff Nelson’s them. I am attending his fearless workshop in August but this can give me a head start. I did play in a quartet yesterday at the Barry Tuckwell Institute and, although I missed a note now and then, basically it went well.


  2. Tina, Give yourself a break. We all have our train wrecks. Repeated practice in as close as playing conditions as possible is always the best antidote. If you chipped (rather than destroyed) the first note in T5, played the rest well, but only remember the first note, then may I suggest the focus is a bit too much on the notes and not enough on the music?


    • Hi Fred,
      Thanks for your comment! You are absolutely right that my focus back then, and to some extent now, is way too much on the notes and not on the music. I have to develop the confidence that the notes will come out when I focus on the music. I don’t trust myself enough yet. It is getting better slowly as I learn to play better.


  3. I agree with Fred. Give yourself a break. I’ve struggled with nervous performances forever and am just now decided that the music comes before anything else that is trying to go through my mind when I play … things like air, embouchure, etc., etc. When you perform the only think you need to think about is the music. When you practice, think the nuts and bolts.

    My favorite books about performance anxiety are
    A Soprano on Her Head: Right-Side-Up Reflections on Life and Other Performances by Eloise Ristad
    The Golfer’s Mind: Play to play great by Dr. Bob Rotella
    The golfer’s book is great and has become my constant companion. It is 10 Commandments. #4 is “Know that nothing will bother or upset you on the golf course, and you will be in a great state of mind for every shot” which I change to “Know that nothing will bother or upset you on stage and you will be in a great state of mind for the entire performance.”

    You are human? You will make mistakes. You’ve learned some things about the physical set up you like, so use that knowledge, but also try to let go of that so that you’re not blindsided when you can’t make any adjustment to where you are sitting during a performance. Develop the inner strength and confidence to perform whenever, wherever your chair sits (or stand stands … ).

    Have fun.


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