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.