My violin recital¹ was today. I tend not to think of myself as having a lot of performance anxiety, but I guess I have my share.
I’ve been playing the violin for 4 years, now. Learning more than playing, really. I have a lot of other things going on in my life, so I haven’t yet achieved a level that would merit the statement “I play the violin.” But I keep at it. I enjoy it. I have a wonderful teacher, who is very patient and encouraging.
I wanted to take part in the recital in large part because I knew that it would motivate me to push myself. I like working on a piece for an extended period of time, as I can really feel that I’m making progress. And the piece that I played, by Leopold Mozart (as in father to Wolfgang Amadeus) was, no doubt, the hardest piece I’ve played so far. One particular challenge for me is that it calls for lots of double stops, the violin equivalent of a chord, where two strings are bowed at the same time. It involved very careful fingering and bowing, and I managed to achieve some things that I had not yet managed. I got to know the piece quite well. In fact, I memorized it, without actually meaning to. I discovered that I could play it with my eyes closed. (In fact, I did a couple of times when I had to practice but was too tired to focus on the sheet music.)
But the trouble is, even though I could play the piece, I never managed to play it consistently well. The hardest part was always the beginning, as in just starting. (I could play the same section much better the second time around when it was repeated for the end of the piece.) Sometimes it would sound good, but not always.
I tried recording myself so I could listen to it, thinking that I was judging myself too harshly. But the recording only confirmed for me that I just didn’t sound so great. I would offer to share with you the recording, but seriously, I’m embarrassed by it.
In spite of this, I hadn’t been stressing terribly about the recital. For one thing, most of the other participants are also not so great. (My violin teacher once told me that I’m her best adult student. Of course, most of her students are kids, and there are a couple of teenagers who are really good. And I mean really good.) For another thing, I knew that very few people would actually see me playing, as the audience typically consists of a few family members of the students. Usually their parents. I would have John and Phoebe in the audience, but they already know all too well what I sound like. So I knew that even if I messed up, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. But a big reason I hadn’t been stressing too much was that, quite honestly, there have been quite a lot of other things on my mind and on my metaphorical plate.
So I was caught off guard when I woke up this morning with what’s often known as butterflies in my stomach. The sounds coming from my stomach reminded me more of early 80s arcade games (Space Invaders, anyone?) than the fluttering of lepidoptera wings. But what the hell. Butterflies.
I practiced a bit before we left, and was determined to keep my hands warm. I play clumsily when my fingers are cold. The trouble is, it’s December, and I tend to get cold hands and feet. So sitting around before the recital started, I worked at warming my hands up. And was startled to discover that my hands were sweaty, even though they were still cold. And I’m not even prone to sweating.
I was second in the program, and the teenage girl who played ahead of me was good. As in, why-the-hell-am-I-playing-right-after-her good. Then it was my turn. I went on the little stage, put my sheet music on the stand, took a deep breath, and started in. It was a duet with my teacher, and we got off to a pretty good start. But then my arm started shaking. Not a huge amount, but enough to mess up my bowing. The result, while not devastatingly awful, was that I messed up more than usual. And, well, it didn’t sound great.
We stayed for a bit after I played, and listened to a few of the kids who played after me. (Because it turned out there were only kids. The recital was split into two times, and apparently the 3 or 4 other adult students were all going in the second.) Most of the kids we heard were actually playing piano, since my teacher also teaches piano. But I did get to hear a couple of violins after me. And I’m happy to say that they sounded pretty bad, and with much less complex pieces. Of course, they were under 8. But I must take my comfort where I can find it. Even if it means mocking a cute little six-year-old behind her back.
Anyhow, it’s over. The butterflies (or aliens) departed quite unceremoniously from my stomach. And even though I’m not thrilled with how I did during the recital, I’m very glad I did it.
¹ Have you ever noticed that recital is one letter off from rectal?