Reflections on a solo performance

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Of which the lead up was pretty awful, but the performance itself was good.

I had a bit of a bad run coming up to my set in the inaugural EBCC (East Brisbane Community Centre) Music Arts Festival. On top of general procrastination and practice struggles, I found myself exhausted by teaching in the days leading up to the show, was surprised by a bit of a family crisis, and had to drop a work from my program at the last minute due to instrument failure (my alto flute magically broke while in its case).

Saturday dawned with my having barely touched the Carter and Takemitsu I was revisiting, and along with the other stresses I experienced several bursts of panic. I handled interpersonal relations poorly (very poorly in some cases) and struggled not to beat myself up for how behind I was. Practice was a huge battle, but I brushed things up as much as I could. I am, of course, bitterly disappointed I didn’t give myself the opportunity to further develop my interpretation of the works, building on previous performances and lessons, using new skills and approaches I have encountered or experienced in the meantime.

I had planned to print flyers for Kupka’s upcoming America concert days before, but ended up doing it on the way to the venue – a recipe for disaster. Of course the first machine I tried at Officeworks was broken and then my card was refused and I had to buy a new one (I was by now in a hurry, and the store was understaffed – there was no one to help). When I finally printed half the number of flyers I had hoped to do (I was charged for colour on both sides of the page despite one being in black and white), I went to ask a staff member to guillotine them – two cuts, which would apparently take over an hour due to a long line of print jobs. I walked out swearing.

Luckily the Judy had a guillotine so I could get them cut when I arrived. There was not, however, any warm-up space made available (it seems jazz musicians don’t find this so necessary as us anal classical types), so Luara and I ran our duo in a hallway, and I sped anxiously through some scales and tricky passages.

Several times I felt completely overcome by how hopeless the situation was. I blamed outside disruptions – people and events – as well as myself, and felt suffocated by my misfortune. I felt quite abandoned (by who, I’m not sure) at the moment I most needed some support. Somehow I managed to pull myself back together each time, and after enjoying some of the previous acts and some particularly good cold rice paper rolls from a wonderful little Vietnamese joint (Ho Chi Mumma …!) I was in a good enough mood to just get up and play the best I could.

Were there wrong notes? Oh yeah. Could I have done better? Most definitely. But I held it together. I directed some of my stress and anger into voice and breath attacks in the Takemitsu. I closed my eyes in my short improvisation and shut myself off from the outside world completely. I shrieked out fourth register interjections in the Carter and ignored the occasional wrong note in the sextuplet passages. I breathed. I had no memory slips in the Kate Soper (and also Luara was magnificent). I felt virtually no nerves, perhaps because I had already expended all my nervous energy! And afterwards people congratulated me, expressed surprise that this music was getting played in Brisbane and admiration at how I had played it. The next day I got further congratulatory messages. I also apologised to those who I was short or overly emotional with, and my apologies were well received.

None of this excuses the problems that led to how Saturday went for me. I want much more for myself, and also a lot less stress, for myself and others. There is much work to be done. But one positive is that I don’t feel like too much of a fraud. It was a bit of an unfortunate series of events, which is going to happen sometimes, and I’m happy to find I can still pull off a convincing and fulfilling performance. I’m very grateful for the support I had, without which I most likely would have failed. And there is always next time…

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