It was in May 2008, 11 years ago, that I first took my old Yamaha horn out of the closet and embarked on this journey to play horn again. The last time I had played anything more than a few notes was in 1972. It was April 3rd, 2009 that I wrote my first post in this blog.
I have come a long way since May 2008. I hardly write in this blog anymore and that’s because now change, or actually improvement, comes very slowly. In the beginning every day came with something to write about. There were so many ups and downs. Good days, mediocre days, horrible days, frustrating days. Days when I questioned why was I doing this? Fortunately I rarely question why now. I sit in the orchestra playing my part and luxuriate in the music making and that I am a part of it.
I wrote in my first post “My goal is to play better than I did back in college and I was a pretty decent hornist even if I do say so myself.” Uh, no. I was completely clueless about what it takes to be a good hornist back then. At least I can say that now I am better than I was then so I have met that goal. But that goal needs to be updated. I think the goal needs more to be about enjoyment and less about my ability to play well. But they really are intertwined. Enjoyment comes with playing well. Most of the time I can play what’s thrown at me in orchestra so that increases my enjoyment. If I have a solo I can handle it and not fall apart in the concert. This spring’s challenge is the 3rd horn part of Brahms Academic Festival Overture. Oh those triplets. But I’ve got it. Phew.
It’s not fun to have a part in front of you that is harder than you can handle. Five years ago that’s where I was for almost everything I was attempting to play. Looking at a part that had measures in it that no matter how hard I worked to learn it, I wasn’t technically able to play it yet. I really suffered through my degree program at LIU Post. I was forced to play pieces that I really wasn’t ready to perform. Required performances and juries were terrifying. I had massive performance anxiety because my brain went to all those passages that I knew I couldn’t play. The good news is that I developed a pretty thick skin and now, along with a lot more experience and ability, that thick skin serves me well.
Another thing I wrote in my first blog entry was, “I use this time (waiting for my horn to get fixed) wisely by ordering some music books. One of the pieces I order is Strauss 1. What am I thinking? Is this hope or insanity? I haven’t played a note in decades.” Well I am performing Strauss 1 with a pianist on June 1st in NYC. It only took 11 years.
Although I feel like most of my nervousness when I perform has gone away, I still play badly when I perform. I’m not sure how to overcome this issue. On Friday I had my spring semester jury exam and yesterday I performed Laudatio at a small recital in NYC and I seem to have come up with a new way to screw up.
Previously I would chip, overshoot or undershoot notes but ultimately I would end up playing the correct note and continue playing the correct notes. This was all about using air correctly and for the most part I’ve finally got that figured out (it only took three years) so I chip a whole lot fewer notes at least when I remember to use my air properly. At the dress rehearsal for my jury, at my jury exam and again yesterday I played the wrong pitches on lots of passages. Not just one or two here and there but entire phrases. This is something new. I’ve always had the problem of nailing the first note of a piece correctly but this week I’ve just missed way too much. I played an awful lot of notes that Bernhard Krol didn’t write yesterday and that Hindemith and Alec Wilder didn’t write the day before.
I played the first movement of the Hindemith Sonata at my jury and I rehearsed with the pianist at least five times and the first three times went very well. We had to work on rhythm issues but I was playing the correct notes. Then at the dress rehearsal and at the final run through I started playing entire passages about a third lower. After these fiascos I went back to playing along with the recording and just practicing the piece and everything was fine. Then at the performance I again played the wrong notes. I also did this with the Wilder Sonata at the jury and I had never messed up the Wilder that way before my performance. Yesterday I did the same thing on Laudatio and I know that piece about as well as anything I’ve ever played. I played it through five times yesterday morning correctly and then blew the entire opening section at the performance. It got better toward the end of the piece but I played way too much that was just wrong; clean notes but wrong notes.
I’ve always played worse at the performance than at any practice session or rehearsal but this has been the air problem which goes hand in hand with nervousness. As I get better with air and get less nervous my confidence that I can play better at a performance has gone up. Now I feel like my confidence level has dropped back to where it was a year ago which was pretty much non existant. I have something new to worry about and I don’t know how to fix it because I don’t know why it’s happening. Even worse, I don’t have any performances coming up until the middle of the fall semester so I have way too much time to stew over this. I’d love some suggestions on how to fix this.