Beautiful Presser Hall at IWU
When you are starting your career, people like to give you lots of advice. And when you are starting a career in a business as nebulous as the music business, you become an eager sponge for any and all words of wisdom. Lately the message that keeps coming through to me from new colleagues and professors from my past is: stay positive.
Some days this is easier than others, but it seems to me that positive thinking seems to grow upon itself. Positive thinking gives you a rosier outlook, and visualizing your success can be as important as all the time you spend in the practice room.
I've often heard that there are many great musicians out there but not many of them are great at auditioning. What divides the pros from the amateurs? I've heard many professionals affirm that mental preparation is the key to winning.
In Don Greene's book "Audition Success" he writes about how he worked with Olympic divers in preparation for their auditions. Sports psychology is amazingly similar to music psychology, and I like to tell my students that musicians are athletes too. A former champion diver himself, Don Greene helped a diver who had injured herself and had no time to physically prepare for her Olympic trials. Through weeks of mental preparation that included meditation and methodically visualizing each dive movement by movement, she performed spectacularly.
I know almost all musicians can agree that they've played their best in the warm-up room and then blown the audition. I felt like I was the queen of terrible auditions sometimes. To counteract this I would perform mock auditions for my friends and rehearse the music relentlessly: singing through it, listening to it over and over again, running it backwards and forwards with different articulations, working with a metronome, etc.
When I was still struggling with performance anxiety, I took a lesson with Bill Barnewitz, and he completely blew my mind with his perspective on auditioning. "Why shouldn't you enjoy it?" he asked me. "You get to perform some of the most beautiful music ever written." I had been so caught up in my fear of auditioning that this sounded shocking to my ears.
It wasn't until I was pursuing my masters at the University of Michigan that things really started to click. Constant practice and thorough preparation are necessary to be competitive, but visualization made me feel like I could play even better than my best while under pressure.
I pictured myself playing through the excerpts and meditated before falling asleep a few nights prior to the audition. I reflected on how each note of each phrase would feel against my lips and how the sound would fill the hall. Once in the audition room, I already knew what was going to happen. Not only did I feel confident, I felt at peace. I actually enjoyed the audition and didn't waste any mental space with negative thoughts.
Can this kind of positive thinking in preparation for one small performance be applied to a whole career? Sometimes when we are caught up in living gig to gig we can forget to dream big.
I recently visited Illinois Wesleyan University to perform on their New Music Cafe series. I performed an incredible chamber work for violin, viola, string bass, oboe, horn, and marimba written by the Brazilian composer Marcos Lucas. It was such a joy to feel at home at my alma mater again. Visiting Bloomington, Illinois also put some things into perspective for me. When I think about how small my view of the world was when I was a student at IWU, it feels like it has been much more than three years since I graduated. So much can happen in just a few years time. Some things never change though- I'm still filled with positive energy whenever I visit Presser Hall.
I can say that I am simply a young musician who is thankful for the present and eagerly anticipating the future.
Elizabeth Gilbert is one of my favorite authors and I just adore her use of words.
“We search for happiness everywhere, but we are like Tolstoy's fabled beggar who spent his life sitting on a pot of gold, under him the whole time. Your treasure--your perfection--is within you already. But to claim it, you must leave the buy commotion of the mind and abandon the desires of the ego and enter into the silence of the heart.” -Elizabeth Gilbert