MUSICAL MUSINGS: Playing well only puts more pressure on the next performance

I spent nearly all of last Saturday at a location I have become way too familiar with: Capistrano Hall at Sacramento State University.

I have spent hours upon hours in that building for many an event. There’s the Sacramento Youth Symphony placement and seating auditions, the summer chamber music programs, the concerto competitions and the innumerable performances.

Each time I experience the same emotions—anxiety, hopelessness, unease. All in all, it’s a very unhappy place to be.

Last Saturday was no exception. I was there to compete in the Golden Empire Music Festival, both as a solo violinist and as a member of the high-school string trio and string quartet.

I arrived in the late morning, planning to practice for my solo, which would take place right before the lunch break (what a great time to play).

But as soon as I stepped into the practice room, I realized my plan wasn’t going to work out.

People say that when one constantly puts oneself in nerve-wracking situations, then one gets used to the stress and is able to succeed at whatever he or she is doing. Well, people are wrong.

I’ve been in that practice room tens of times. Each time, it just gets worse.

I remember my first audition for the Youth Symphony clearly. I was in middle school and I was pretty nervous, but not overly so. I’d never done something like an audition before, so if I failed it wasn’t a big deal.

I went into the audition room and played my piece, came out and went to a Shrek movie with my parents. A couple of months later I got a phone call from the Youth Symphony saying that they wanted to place me in a higher orchestra than the one I had auditioned for. Of course, I said yes.

That’s when the pressure kicked in.

I had set a standard for myself—what an idiot move! Now I was expected to always make it into that baseline orchestra. And when, in later years, I made it into more advanced groups, I was supposed to continue improving.

Well, I guess that’s no surprise to the majority of humanity, but for me it was a real wake-up call.

And those expectations have haunted me ever since in everything I do, whether music, school or any other pursuit.

It’s why when I walked into that practice room, I ended up sitting in a corner with my head in my hands for a whole 15 minutes before I started practicing.

But that’s not even the worst part of the story. The crushing outcome was that I actually did pretty well. Now I’ll have to plan for at least 20 minutes of mental breakdown time before my next audition.

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