Updates – Nerves

I haven’t posted in about 5 months because I have been insanely busy with school and then the holidays and then school again. I’ll cover what’s been happening in the next few posts starting with performance anxiety.

I have a bad case of nerves and I can’t seem to play for people anywhere close to what I can do in the practice room. I’ve been working on this issue starting by attending ‘FAT’ camp run by Jeff Nelson at Indiana University back in August. ‘FAT’ stands for Fearless Auditioning Training. The week consists of some lectures and tools to help with nerves and lots and lots of playing for judges and for the other people in the class. The first time I had to play I was a basket case but as the week went on I did get more used to playing and had less anxiety. The last day was the ‘final’ mock audition which seemed to be more important than the previous ones. For me, this change brought back all the anxiety in spades.

I also think I shot myself in the foot by choosing music and excerpts that were a bit of a stretch for me. I think the biggest reason that I get nervous playing in front of people is that I don’t trust myself, I don’t trust that the correct note will come out of the horn, and I don’t have the confidence that I know the music well enough to play it decently. I don’t think having an audience is the problem. I can get up and speak in front of a thousand people, and I have done that during my former career, and have absolutely no nerves at all. I should have selected music that I knew inside and out. I think that would have shown me that I can play something I know without too many nerves.

I am getting better playing in front of my teachers. With my first teacher, Lynn Steeves, it took me many lessons to get calm. With Scott Bacon it took me months to get calmer and I only recently have gotten completely comfortable. When I met Debbie Schmidt when she was checking my horn she had me play for her and I was terrified. When I worked with Debbie for the FAT camp it took me a few lessons to put some form of decent playing together. With my latest teacher it took about three lessons for me to get calm and play the way I do when I’m alone.

When I got back from FAT camp I went to see a therapist to work on my nerves. These sessions helped quite a bit. She had me bring my horn and one of the things we worked on was picking up the horn and getting good imagery into my head. I had an audition for the college orchestra and for most of it I did okay. I think I played Strauss’ Nocturno reasonably well, the fast section at the end of Strauss 1 sort of okay, but then an A major scale was a disaster. I have discovered that I get more nervous instead of less nervous as I keep going.

I’ve had three more opportunities to play for people at school. Every time I play I get ever so slightly less nervous. By the time I got to my jury exam I played my three pieces decently and wasn’t too shaky. However, I completely blew an A flat major scale at the end. I need to keep finding opportunities to play which is hard to do.

My biggest accomplishment was playing Laudatio by Krol at my mother’s memorial concert a few weeks ago at the Manhattan School of Music. I managed to get up on stage in front of a room full of professional musicians and play decently. I was nervous but I managed to control it well enough. Last week I had an audition for band and I wasn’t very nervous. I didn’t play very well but that was because of stiff chops and not nerves. All in all I’m making progress.

Passing on

My mom passed away Saturday morning. I’m posting about her because I think many younger musicians probably don’t know about her. This is her bio from the Groves Dictionary of Music.

“Ludmila Ulehla: b Flushing, NY, 20 May 1923). American composer, pianist and teacher of Czech descent. She began writing music at the age of five and later studied at the Manhattan School of Music (BMus 1946, MMus 1947), where her composition teacher was Vittorio Giannini. She became a professor at the Manhattan School in 1947 and was chairperson of the composition department there from 1970 to 1989; she received the President’s Medal for Distinguished Faculty Service from the school in 1998. Additionally she taught at the Hoff-Barthelson Music School, Scarsdale, New York (1968–91), and acted as chairperson of the American Society of University Composers (1972–3) and programme chairperson for the National Association for American Composers and Conductors (1967–74). She has received awards and grants from ASCAP and Meet the Composer. Although Ulehla’s musical language is contemporary, the legacy of the classical canon as well as Slav influences have clearly contributed to its evolution. Her works are tonal, but are not organized by key; emphasis is given to the function of phrases rather than bar-lines, and the balance of contrast and unity helps to articulate formal structures. Her writings include Contemporary Harmony: Romanticism through the Twelve-Tone Row (New York, 1966/R).”

In addition to the Groves bio, Manhattan School of Music also includes this information:

“Ludmila Ulehla’s commissions include a work for the Stony Brook Contemporary Chamber Players that was premiered in 1998, as well as such past works as Gargoyles for Hindell; Michelangelo for Orchestral Society of Westchester; Remembrances for Heifetz; and Unrolling a Chinese Scroll for Schefflien. Ms. Ulehla has been named Outstanding Educator in Who’s Who of American Women, named in the New Grove Dictionary of Women Composers, and has received ASCAP awards. Her chamber opera, Sybil of the American Revolution, was premiered in 1993; and in 1999, Undersea Fantasy for Orchestra was premiered by the Manhattan School of Music Philharmonia under the direction of David Gilbert. Her publications, printed by Advance Music, include the books Contemporary Harmony and Sonata for Improvisation for clarinet, soprano saxophone, and piano. Ludmila Ulehla has been honored for her valuable half-century devotion and contribution to Manhattan School of Music through the awarding of the School’s first Presidential Award for Distinguished Service in 1998.”

There will be a celebration of her life at the Manhattan School of Music this spring. We are also establishing a scholarship for composition students in her name.

Downs and ups –>