All week, I floated somewhere between dread and anxiety at the prospect of Sunday’s recital. I almost bailed three times, including at my Thursday lesson, when I almost had a nervous breakdown because I couldn’t count us INTO Lightly Row to save my life. I started to face Sunday with the grim dread reserved for pap smears and standardized achievement tests. My motto: “let’s just get this the hell over with.”
Then leaving work Saturday night, I shut my right index finger in the car door. To be clear, I slammed the door so hard that after tugging fruitlessly to get my finger free I actually had to gather my senses enough to OPEN THE DOOR to free my hand. I managed to get into the car, and turn on the light before I realized that I had split the skin between my nail bed and the first joint so deeply I could see the indentation of the car door around my finger. There was no blood yet, but there was going to be. By the time I got to the first aid kit, blood was dripping down my hand, my finger was swelling and I couldn’t even think over the angry throbbing sensation working itself down my fingers and into my palm. Let’s not even talk about pain.
By the time I got home my whole arm shook. I couldn’t feel my fingertip. When I got to the sink and worked the band aid loose the sight of my purple, bloody finger brought the first tears to my eyes. I gave up trying to be stoic and started sobbing. Hearing me rummaging in the bathroom and whimpering like a wounded animal, O thumped down the stairs and rounded the corner. I must have looked terrible judging by the look on his face. He started for his keys, fully intending to deliver me straight to the emergency room.
The first words out of my mouth surprised me. “What if I can’t play tomorrow?!”
All of my doubts and insecurities about playing in front of people just melted. The thought that anything would keep me from picking up my bow and scratching out so much as a set of scales, trumped everything else as the worst possible outcome.
I’ve been an athlete of various kinds for a long time, and my brain immediately went injury recovery mode: Assess, Rest, Ice, Compress, and Elevate. A couple of minutes of running water followed by ice proved that the finger wasn’t broken: I was able to bend both joints, albeit painfully. A new bandage, a couple of ibuprofen, and a glass of wine later I was dozing on the couch with my bandaged hand above my heart. I pictured my hand as I wanted it to be and feel. And I thought about myself playing Sunday, in front of people, as I’d been practicing for all week.
The next morning, the swelling was down, the bleeding stopped, and my fingertip was no longer numb from squashed and inflamed nerves. Around 11, two hours before the recital, I sat down with Cecelia, picked up the bow and worked through the scales. My finger was sore, and my bow grip wasn’t my finest, but I only had to get through 45 seconds of Lightly Row. Most importantly, when I sat down Sunday afternoon in Kaia’s living room with the other students, I really wanted to be there. Even if it took nearly loosing the opportunity to learn how much it meant to me, I’ve waited almost 20 years to play the cello and I’ll be damned if I let my insecurities (or a mean old car door) keep me from loving every moment.
How did it go? Wonderfully. Here are a few things I learned from my first “out loud” performance:
- There is something magical that happens when I’ve practiced enough to achieve know it by heart stage. It’s like all that practice and muscle memory takes over, and at the end the brain goes something like “huh? Yeah it’s over already? That wasn’t so bad.” Even when I missed a note I found myself easily getting right back to where I was meant to be. That felt awesome.
- Truthfully, I’m sure I could have done better, but the whole 45 seconds really did sort of blur by. I have to take O’s word that it was the best he had heard. After all, he HAS been listening to me practice. It will be interesting to hear what Kaia’s notes are.
- I really, really like playing with other musicians. We started out with Twinkle Twinkle variations and I loved how it came together over a couple of tries so that by the third time it sounded truly harmonious.
- I can hear my own cello in a group. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do that!
- My A string sounds kind of nasal compared to the same string on other cellos. What can I do about that?
- I now have new appreciation for my hands. In one respect, I’m grateful that I smashed my right finger –I could function with a wounded bow hand but fingering with a busted left index would have been damn near impossible. I’ve vowed to be kinder to my digits, including warming them up more thoroughly before lessons and practice, making sure they’re clear before closing the car door and treating them to a manicure once in a while.
I did give my index finger the rest of the day off. I think it was well earned.