I can do that
There are two flights a day to Hancock, MI… and in the winter, they frequently get cancelled. Hancock is in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and it is absolutely the snowiest and coldest place I have ever been. It makes Rochester, NY, where I lived for 7 years, seem... mild! I mean, check out where it is:
The trip here was smooth for three of us, actually. We arrived safely on Tuesday night, ready to get in two days of rehearsal and play a concert on Friday and Saturday for the Weekend of New Music at Michigan Technological University. Although there are usually seven players in this ensemble, this particular project included flute, clarinet, violin and cello.
The big news of early Wednesday AM...
Lauren, our violinist, called to tell us her flight was cancelled and she was rebooked on the second flight that evening, which gets in at 10pm. So… that meant no rehearsal with the whole group on Wednesday and lucky for Lauren, ten hours at O’hare!
We did our best to rehearse on Wednesday without violin, and got a decent amount accomplished. I will say, since all of this music was brand new, an extra challenge was added not having the full group! But, we knew we had to try to make things as clear and easy for her as we could when she arrived to the snow tundra, or this wasn’t going to be possible.
We took a break to eat dinner, and got the next bit of news: Lauren’s evening flight was cancelled. .... yikes.
At this point, we felt beyond terrible that Lauren had been at the airport for an entire day and now had to leave, go to a hotel, and come back to attempt the fate of a THIRD flight in the morning. But also… what if that one is cancelled? And, can we even put this program together in 30 hours once she arrives?!
We start imagining a plan B if Lauren’s morning flight is cancelled: send her back to NY and have a group cry for her, and then learn a different program on Thursday of clarinet, flute and cello music. We already had one piece for that instrumentation on the program, in addition to a clarinet and flute duo that was to be played on Saturday. But, we could do it twice.
Thursday AM we rehearsed without Lauren… again. Although it was almost like she was there, since everyone was getting really good at looking off the score and singing or playing her part in their rests or even while they were playing. Haha!
The great news... Lauren finally arrived on the Thursday AM flight!
After picking her up, getting lunch, and getting back to the school (alongside all the snow mobiles on the roads, no joke), we started rehearsing around 3pm. We did two big sessions until late that night, and two more on Friday. And we played a successful concert on Friday night, despite how fresh it all felt.
As you can imagine, the experience was a bit of a whirlwind for everyone. But, I was reminded of so many important things about being a successful musician during this adventure, and I’d love to share some of them with you.
1. Being flexible and having an “I can do that” attitude will get you further than you’d ever imagine.
During this trip, while we were making plan A, B’s, and C’s, the conversation was never centered around what we couldn’t do. It was centered around what we knew would be possible if we all had an abundance attitude and worked together. All of the people involved in this project went to Eastman, and in the greenroom we reminisced about why we got opportunities in school, and decided this same attitude was nearly always the reason: because people knew we’d be up for a challenge, and have a good attitude in the face of it.
2. There are two dynamics in chamber music: the projecting voice and the listening voice.
Marian Hahn said this and he's spot on. If you know when to use both, you’re golden. And, especially when you’re preparing music quickly, there is nothing more important than knowing what to listen for to center your confidence.
3. Errors on stage always seem more egregious than they were.
In Friday's concert, one piece was particularly challenging at the beginning, and I was sure I got off dramatically and felt awful about it. My mind was telling me it was a huge deal - until I listened to the recording the next day. And realized in one bar, I was half a beat off and immediately recovered. The reminder? Don’t make up a story in your head about how things went! Listen to your recordings. All the time. Often, our perception of our performance is not rooted in reality.
4. There’s so much more to a performance than what is technically happening to YOU.
Sure, there were moments we all wished we could have gone back to catch. But we knew with so little time to put this together, we’d all miss things. That didn’t keep us from going on stage - because how you move, how you speak to the audience, how you commit to your sound, how you engage with each other on stage, and so much more is all just as much a part of a performance as your technical accuracy. The heart of a performance does not lie in its perfection.
Although we may imagine that in our professionals life we will always feel "prepared" (perhaps like we did in school, with tons of practice and repetitions and rehearsal), the truth is, it's less common than you think. Being prepared turns into yes of course practicing, but also trusting your skills and instincts, and focusing on staying clear and focused mentally. It’s about drinking electrolytes before the concert. It’s about trusting the people you’re on stage with and listening.
I feel incredibly lucky to play with people that are not only musicians I admire, but people with the most loving and “can do” attitudes out there. It makes you feel like anything is possible.
Go find yourself some people like that! And stay warm out there.