Do you ever think about milestones in your life and wonder, “how did I even do that?” When I reminisce about repertoire I played in middle school, high school, or even undergrad, the only answer to that question is that “I was too stupid to know what I was doing.” This feeling extends even to this last academic year. I am dumbfounded when I look back on the program of my fall recital, the Six Preludes of the Bach Cello Suites and Bright Sheng’s Seven Tunes Heard in China. Was that really me? How did I even do that? I tell myself, yes, that was me and I did it by working my tail off: six months of preparation, four public performances, and a whole lot of blood, sweat, and tears.
I am asking myself the same question the day before this second recital. Two and a half months of preparation, no public performances, and a whole lot of rehearsing with three brilliant pianists: Debussy Sonata with Sarah Amos, Shostakovich Sonata with Tina Gorter, and three new compositions by and with Gene Knific. It has been a challenge for me since the rules that applied to the former program do not apply to this one.
When I set these two programs side by side, I realize how much yang and yin they have. The fall recital was all about digging deep, pushing forward, and finding the guts to play a solo program all alone on the recital hall stage. I had to find the strength to carry it myself. This spring program is a completely different beast. Digging deep doesn’t work since I’m only playing a fraction of the notes. I have to go beyond myself by exploring the score and the musical ideas presented by your duo partner. Pushing forward isn’t a effective strategy because I am in stride with another artist. Collaboration and compromise means finding a pace at which we can both run. And guts? The truly terrifying experience of this program has not been finding the strength to hang on but seeking the ability to let go.
When I say “let go” I mean the act of surrendering to the realm of possibility, that in performance, anything can happen. Trouble spots I’ve practiced ten-thousand times all of a sudden feel insecure while sections I’ve worried about for months go off without a hitch. As is always the case with chamber music, we have to dance in step together so that means fitting what you are doing with another independent agent. And that final question, "will the adrenaline hurt me or help me?" Yes, this is the true terror of performance. Change, unpredictable and uncontrollable change. The fear of the unknown is so strong that I have even found myself answering the questions about my program preparation with “I don’t think its going to be good…” I would rather it be negative than not know what it will be. I would rather set myself up for failure than consider that I have no real control over what will happen.
Over the course of the last few months I have had to discover another way of being, partly through the discipline of cello, but also from practicing yoga. The other day, as I was sitting on my mat, I said to myself calmly, “what am I feeling?” I answered back “Actually… I feel terrible… horribly anxious and I know I shouldn’t, I should be more prepared than this, I should be acing this I should… ” The blockage wasn’t the anxiety itself, it was the expectation that I should be sailing through this with ease. I came to the conclusion that “yup, that’s a silly expectation to put on yourself, so just be okay being worried about it.” It was at that point that everything became okay.
Just kidding. That’s a complete lie. Everything was not okay nor will it be but the important point is that I accepted that it wasn’t so I could move forward. Being open, and therefore vulnerable, to what will or will not happen, is the way of decisive action. When mental space is created, one can rationally and expressively react outwards rather than emotionally and instinctively retract inwards. As Mr. Starker always said with a slight smirk, “don’t get excited, create excitement.”
So, if you want to experience some excitement, come to my final recital program at WMU at 6:00 tomorrow night in the Lecture Hall at the Dalton Center. It is a collaborative concert featuring Sarah Amos, Tina Gorter, and Gene Knific on piano.