You can learn a lot about yourself from recordings—particularly videos. I typically look forward to giving recitals every now and then. I recently gave a monster solo recital: after all the dead space and intermission was edited out, it was 94 minutes of music, half of it memorized. I was pleased with it, overall. But it wasn’t flawless. One piece I was DETERMINED to perform brilliantly was Sarasate's Carmen Fantasy. It's really fun music, not to mention it was my dream piece in college. I practiced and practiced and practiced, nearly every day for months, until the recurring comment from the peanut gallery [my kids] whenever I got to a slight breath of silence in the music, such as a quarter note rest, was, "Are you done?"
I had nailed the whole thing a couple of times in my preparation. But in looking at a video of the crucial performance night, I noticed an interesting change in my face from the rest of the program, as the pianist played the opening notes of the introduction—a deer in the headlights kind of look. . . . Granted, it's a tough piece. My friend in the Utah Symphony and another friend with her doctorate in violin performance both referred to the Carmen Fantasy as a "beast." But I believed in myself. I had strategically programmed it at the end, so as to hopefully leave a last impression of impressiveness.
Yet there was no denying upon seeing my mood written clearly on my face, recorded for all time, that I wasn't just uncomfortable with the piece; I was actually afraid of it! Maybe more so because I had played it so much, so I knew all the places where it could fall apart! I had heard that Richard Elliott, famed Tabernacle organist, once said, "If you’re not at all nervous, you haven’t practiced enough." There were inadvertent mistakes made in the actual performance—probably only about eight to ten measures of memory lapse. But that was more than enough for me! The recording engineer, like me, a self-proclaimed perfectionist, pointed out, "It’s never as bad as you think." And the audio portion, for the most part, did seem pretty decent. But the video told a different story. In fact, in watching myself, I could still feel the anger I was feeling at times: the anger that only comes from "botching" something you’ve invested yourself into so deeply!
Seeing my expressions reminded me all too clearly of exactly how I felt in a relationship I had had once upon a time. For privacy purposes, I'll change the fellow’s name and refer to him as John. From the first second I laid eyes on him, I was completely smitten (much like I was when I first laid ears on the Sarasate). Over the course of the 11 dates we went on (yes, I counted), I was just expecting the inevitable—for him to break up with me—because I felt I had finally met my match and it was almost certainly too good to last. I felt similarly about the Carmen Fantasy—like it was too amazing for me to be able to make it stick.
After the breakup with John, even though I had expected it, as time went on, I was heartbroken! And frustrated and angry at myself for mistakes I made, like getting too personal about my life too quickly: the reasons that "must have been" why he broke up with me. But in all honesty, I knew I had never been completely comfortable in the relationship anyway! I felt like I always had to be at my very best when I was with him to try to impress him. I could never make a mistake!
Playing the violin is the same way, sometimes. It shouldn’t be! But it is. Take performing Sarasate: I should have exhibited joy and a sense of fun in my performance. But I was clearly uncomfortable. Similarly, I was mad at the mistakes I made the night I performed it. These were raw and real emotions. I had invested so much of myself into this piece, almost like it was a relationship! I wanted it to be perfect! (Did I mention I'm a perfectionist?) Normally, when I mess up in a performance, I feel embarrassed, but this type of mistake went further than that, because I had worked so hard. My mistakes "shouldn’t have happened" like that! My triumph seemed to be slipping through my fingers like sand. In a way, I was angry that I had met my match and it was too good to be true.
But despite the anger I felt at botching those few passages, I am pleased to relate that most of the concert turned out very well. I wish I didn't wear my worried heart on my sleeve at the wrong moments. However, in the right moments, I am glad that I'm a sensitive person and can show my expression to others! Sometimes I could feel the music lifting my spirits and healing my worry, letting a little extra light into the room.
Here's to more performances and enjoying them and not feeling like they have to be flawless to be inspiring! The irony is, we can all triumph despite frustration! For example, for some miraculous reason, I didn't have to be flawless for my husband, but he loves me dearly anyway. There will be more performances. But I don't have to look any further for love! When my hubby played "The Search is Over" by Survivor on his phone at the dinner table tonight, I felt happy and at peace. Aren’t we lucky that our mistakes don't disqualify us from the blessings or—dare I use the comparison?—from the music of a wonderful life . . . full of angst, but equally importantly, full of beauty?