Yesterday evening, I performed my second solo recital as a member of the faculty at Ball State University. It wasn't a perfect performance, but I do believe it was a very expressive one. And isn't that, after all, what live music is all about?
Since yesterday's performance, I've been running through my head ALL of the mistakes I made. But listening back to the two seriously egregious errors I was SURE were ridiculously blatant, I realize (with a day's detachment as a buffer), that they weren't really all that bad. In fact, if you didn't know the piece, you probably wouldn't notice there was anything wrong at all.
What, then, is this self-criticism all about? Perhaps it's as simple as this: perfectionists are incredibly adept at catastrophizing. When it comes to my craft, I am a perfectionist (okay, fine, it seeps in to other channels of my life too) and I take great pride in what I do, which then translates into deep shame when I make mistakes, especially in front of an audience. Clearly when I miss a note it means I am a BAD person. In an elevated state of self-criticism, mistakes equal failures.
But the down-to-earth, honest truth of live musical performance is that it is not about the performer, but about the audience. And the audience is NOT there to judge, but to enjoy. They come to FEEL, not to tally mistakes.
And yet, while my logical side recognizes and applauds this, yesterday I still experienced the negative self-talk that lead to mistakes during performance, i.e., "here it comes, that big shift you've been practicing and only mostly getting right. Here it is! Oh NOOO!!!" When such thoughts went through my head, I inevitably flubbed the shift or run or whatever else it was about which I was panicking.
At other times, I would acknowledge a tricky spot coming up, and I would be able to channel my energy into the kinesthetic feeling of playing-- of the softness in my knees, of the looseness in my jaw-- and to focus on the sound of my instrument blending with the others, and the emotional landscape I wanted to portray. And by focusing on those things, I left my body free to execute the passage that had been well-trained in the practice room, which inevitably resulted in a calm, clean execution instead of a panicked "AAAAAAAHHHH!!!!!"
THOSE were the magic moments, where all of the thousands hours of training I have dedicated to playing viola let me simply express music.
What's really frustrating (says the catastrophizing perfectionist) is that I still cannot have calm moments at EVERY scary spot. Though I am a fairly seasoned performer, I am still susceptible to the ridiculous belief that if I make mistakes, they are a reflection of me as a person and a musician. And that's simply silly. As musician, pedagogue, and author Gerald Klickstein puts it, "Errors are inevitable, but suffering as a result of them is optional."
I do believe these photos of Cristina Capparelli (my AMAZING guest pianist for the Franck sonata) and me express everything perfectly: Regardless of errors, music brings people together, both on stage and off.