by pieces of moments
It’s true what Bilbo Baggins said about never knowing what adventure awaits you when you walk out your front door (to paraphrase broadly). Today I walked out of my door and into my office door, and met one of the most talented, well known, and loved sopranos in the world. Because, today, Frederica von Stade was giving a masterclass in one of our rehearsal spaces. I snapped a few pictures on a proper camera, but need to get a hold of the cord and download the pictures, so in the interim, you can enjoy this bad quality picture from my phone:
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She’s really lovely, very personable and kind. Artistically, I really, really, appreciated what she had to say. Her approach is very much about subtlety and detail – two things that really strike a resonance with my own creative process and goals. She consistently emphasized avoiding over-singing because it’s really just compensation for fear. Truly great vocalists, she postulated, are great not because of their ability to sing loudly, but for their ability to sing quietly with immense intensity and emotion because they trust their ability to go there. With nearly every young vocalist she coached she encouraged developing a trust in her/his own abilities. I totally know that feeling. You know the difficult spots, you know the measures you struggle with over and over again, and too often your muscles tense up (because they know, they’ve been hanging out with your brain, they’ve gotten the “fear this passage!” message), you stop breathing properly, and (duh) you continue to trip up.
I remember my first piano teacher had a mental trick she would play on me during those passages. She would say to me, “okay, when you come to that spot, instead of trying to avoid making a mistake, try to make one on purpose.” Of course, because my brain became occupied with trying to figure out where to make the mistake and what kind of mistake to make, the passage would come and go sans mistake because my brain was not concentrating on the obsession with perfection. That’s obviously a method for little kids, but if you change the idea of distraction with simply trusting that you can do it, that that ability actually is inside of you just waiting for you to acknowledge it and grab hold of it, things will often fall into place. Of course, the tricky part is that the “simple” thing is actually the hardest, right? So, simply learning to trust yourself is actually a very hard earned discipline. But it’s so true. For me it’s always the passages that require my hands to jump from somewhere in the middle of the keyboard rapidly to the opposite ends repeatedly. I have this intense anxiety about getting back and forth on time with precision. If it practice diligently and trust myself I can let it rip – and it feels amazing. If I practice diligently and still hold onto the fears against which I have practiced…well…I rush, hit wrong notes, etc. Not to say mistakes don’t happen, no, not saying that at all. In fact, as I have mentioned previously, I strongly hold onto Russell Sherman’s statements about the distinctive quality of “worst footing.” But at least when I’m trusting my practice and my abilities I can let go and enjoy the physical act of performing the music, mistakes or no mistakes (because really…what is a mistake, anyway?…and yes, I just went there).
In other news, I actually did put my worst foot forward this evening at the bowling alley. I haven’t bowled in years, and I had a few really solid moments, but let’s just say that my ridiculous socks were definitely the highlight of my performance:
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I know. Neon pink. So, basically once the weather gets even remotely warm my island instincts kick into high gear and all I will wear on my feet are flip-flops or sandals of various kinds. I wasn’t about to go putting bowling shoes on without socks, so we ran into the nearest Walgreens and tried to find the most obnoxious socks possible. Um, done and done. I have to say, though, I really kinda like the look of bowling shoes. I actually had a pair of shoes that looked nearly exactly like bowling shoes in my undergrad days.
Oh, where were we? Right, trusting in your artistic capabilities, using them freely, and having the pleasure of meeting really lovely and wise sopranos on Friday afternoons. Sweet.