At rehearsal tonight we tried on a couple of new pieces as potential pieces for our “strings summer session.” Right now we’ve inherited a substantial library of interesting stuff, mostly thanks to our conductor, so tonight was like the orchestra equivalent of shoe-shopping: so many choices!
The most rewarding – and amazing – moment for me was probably midway through the second or third piece when I realized I was actually sight reading much better than I had been a few months ago and able to keep up (mostly). In fact, even when I got “lost” or lost my place, I was able to join back in relatively quickly with the help of the conductor calling out measure numbers, or listening to our bass player (who often has similar lines). I can attribute that to:
1. The blush is off the rose: I’ve been around the orchestra block a time or two. I know my strengths and my weaknesses. I’m not afraid to ask questions about notation and I’m getting comfortable with my fellow musicians enough to let my guard down and just play. In turn, I’m playing with more confidence and not so worried about being right.
2. I’m used to being lost: If you’ve ever travelled (especially internationally) you might have discovered an interesting thing about in unfamiliar surroundings over a long period of time. Being somewhat lost more often than not stops being a panic-inducing event and starts to be the normal state of affairs. Sight reading while playing is getting to be the same for me. Instead of freaking out, getting flustered and letting my brain grind to a halt, I’m actually pulling out a map, marking my surroundings and making a plan of action. Or, musically: keeping count, watching the conductor and my sheet music for a clue, and getting ready to jump back in when the measure number comes (or even better, hearing the bass and jumping in on my own AND jumping back in the right spot felt extra awesome). Counterintuitively, I spend a lot less time being lost, now that I’m comfortable with what being lost feels like.
3. I’m learning to trust myself: I’m still our only cello (come back, cello friends!) I get a lot of cues from the bass, but I’m learning not to hesitate or second guess myself when I hear myself in the middle of the piece carrying a bit of melody alone. After all, I’m playing the cello part, not the bass part, not the viola part. There are going to be moments when I’m playing something that nobody else is. That’s not a reason to panic, or assume I’ve read the music wrong. I’m learning to trust my eyes, and my fingers. Also, I’m learning to be patient with myself, even when I miss a note or the tone is WAY OFF and just keep going.
On the flip side, I noticed that toward the end of rehearsal I got less patient with myself, frustrated more easily and anxious with being lost. A lot of that was just being oversaturated – that was more on-the-spot sight reading than I’ve done in a while. I think I just got tired and a little overwhelmed. Like a little kid past her bed time, my brain kicked and squalled and then shut down entirely. But again, I recognized what was going on and instead of obeying the urge to throw my cello out into the street, I took a couple of deep breaths and just acknowledged what I was feeling and why and did the best I could.
To close the night we played Brandenburg (aka. my nemesis) and as much as I was dreading it, I kept up better than I ever have. Aside from a few missed #Gs I made it through well enough – for the first time playing it together in a couple of weeks. The best part was walking out excited with a couple of new pairs… I mean…pieces to learn, each with their own unique challenges and highlights. And like new shoes, the fun part will be getting to wear…er, play…them all.