When I was no more than three, I would ask my parents if we could watch the “Guy Sleeping” movie again - otherwise known as my favorite part of Fantasia 2000, Rhapsody in Blue. George Gershwin’s concerto was an essential part of my early love for music. I’ve played piano for most of my life, but never expected that I would end up here and be able to do this for a living. I am now a piano performance major in my junior year at WMU; this past December, I got to live out my childhood dream performing as the soloist in Rhapsody in Blue!
Performing is what I absolutely want to do for the rest of my life, but in the journey towards becoming a professional musician, I have struggled a lot with anxiety and self-doubt. Two important breakthroughs in my performance mentality this year have come from "Rhapsody in Blue" and from meditation. Before I ever got the opportunity to perform "Rhapsody" with an ensemble, I was working with my professor on getting out of my shell. I really needed to work at a big concerto sound and an on-stage persona that would fit the piece. In my first run-through, my professor essentially told me, “You know it but you look like you’re playing Haydn.” I had to connect to the reasons I loved the piece in the first place and make my primary focus to convey that love to the audience. The process of connecting to the character of the piece and learning to express myself necessitated that I, at least appear self-confident. I needed to be focused and devoted 100% of the time - and I had to actively remember to have fun!
My professor suggested meditation to help with performance anxiety. I had never tried meditation, but I knew I had to change the way my mind would race while I played. The amount of self-doubt I had was leading to tension, anxiety, and mistakes. After meditating for a couple months now, I can tell it really has made a difference - and my professor could tell from my playing, too! Meditation is all about being aware of the mind and working towards focus. In my recent performances, I felt like I was truly in control of my playing and that I was actively listening the whole time. If my mind would start to get distracted or in situations where I had a tendency to panic, I found I had gotten much better at bringing my focus back on track. I also have a tendency to forget to breathe when I play. Meditation has made me much more aware of my breathing, so it has become much more automatic to take full, deep breaths in performances (allowing me to maintain my highest level of focus and agility).
After working for several months (and recruiting many friends to watch me play), I was able to look and feel confident while performing. We came up with characters and stories, dramatized movements, and had me play with my eyes closed to take it to the next level. Practicing the art of performing helped it to become as habitual as playing the notes themselves so that I could recreate my best performances under pressure. Finally, the day came that I had been preparing for - I got to go home and perform with my hometown's high school band! The confidence that I had built in this process led to a truly fun performance. Even though I've worked on it more since then, it is the performance I feel best about to this day, and the only solo performance where I can genuinely say nerves did not get in the way.
A couple of months later, I got an email from the manager of the high school band. She also happened to be first chair flute and a board member for the Livingston County Concert Band, near where I live. She mentioned me to the band director there and they asked me if I would perform Rhapsody with them in concert! This was a dream come true for me, and also my first time actually being paid to perform as a soloist. The journey with this piece has helped erase the doubt that I could succeed in this profession. It is important to take these opportunities to reflect, and be thankful for the progress being made and the people helping along the way. Finally, in December, I was able to perform with newfound confidence, character, and love.
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