Although it wasn't intentional, I found myself defending my performance when I first started writing this blog post. I could write about each little thing that didn't go perfectly in the live performance (which is now on YouTube). I could write about how hot the stage was, and how it affected my pitch, and how my horn is a mess despite four unsuccessful attempts to fix it, and how the stormy weather affects reeds; but the bottom line is that would be a waste of time and an even larger run-on sentence.
A week ago I had the privilege of playing a concerto with the Austin Symphonic Band. I was excited for several reasons, the most obvious being the opportunity to be a featured soloist. It also gave me the chance to get a great recording of my playing that I could post on the internet and be proud of. To date, this has never happened. I'm certainly not ashamed of my performances, but, having done so little studio recording, I have yet to play an entire piece live entirely in-tune and with perfectly artistic phrasing. I am certainly not alone in this endeavor.
Our high expectations of ourselves as musicians can easily become overwhelming, if not insane. Not unfounded, just highly unrealistic. When we inevitably fail to give a perfect performance, we retreat into defense mode. For me, defense mode looks a lot like hyperfocusing on all the little things that weren't perfect instead of giving credit to the areas that were lush, technically clean, and played with soul.
Like many of my colleagues, I spend most of my time in defense mode. I have never given a perfect performance, yet I constantly try to give one. I could blame this mindset on the conservatory-model which I studied in. Or, I could attribute it to a combination of my own perfectionism and having phenomenal teachers that pushed me to always seek improvement. I choose the latter.
It's ironic how often I point out hypercriticism in my students when they berate themselves for a missed note, a botched entrance, or a flat pitch. I talk to my students constantly about centering, mindful breathing, the power of positive thinking, and imagining success, yet I don't heed my own advice.
Although practice and performance are essential to musical growth, our self-criticism can't override our successes and our love of being artists. The adage isn't new but the message is so often missed: it's important to take every opportunity to perform and learn from our mistakes, instead of letting our mistakes rule our thoughts.