Or more to the point, lessons I learned from playing an opera.
If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that in the past, playing in the orchestra has majorly stressed me out, made me feel intimidated and incapable, and my fear of ensemble playing even drove me to a panic attack this January. However, with the help of mindfulness classes and gaining experience playing the opera, I’ve learned a lot. I just finished playing another orchestra concert last Friday and the whole process was much smoother, less nerve-wracking, and actually fun.
The first thing I realized was that everybody is here to learn. Not everyone is going to hit every note at the first rehearsal, and there’s a decent chance no one will even notice if you mess up. And there is a definite chance that no one is going to hate your guts if you mess up. We’re all students – making mistakes is part of learning! If you do make a mistake, it’s your job to figure out why and fix it for next time, but beating yourself up over it is totally uncalled for.
Another thing I learned somewhere along the way is to not take criticism personally. If the conductor tells you you’ve done something wrong, it’s simply because you need to fix it for the sake of making the ensemble sound the best that it can. It doesn’t mean that the conductor hates you, or that you’re a horrible person. The key word in “constructive criticism” is constructive.
Feeling intimidated still? Don’t! The next thing I learned was to play confidently. Playing confidently, even though it seems scary, actually helps you play better. And being too scared to play loud enough isn’t a way around your fear of someone hearing you play something wrong; you’re actually not doing your job if you can’t be heard when you need to be. Breathe in, say you yourself, “I can do this! Anything can go right!” and let the music flow. It’ll come right out.
And finally, don’t be afraid to ask questions. I sat in on a Vancouver Symphony Orchestra rehearsal this Sunday, and they just pipe up with any questions they may have right away. It’s better for everyone if you can clear up any confusion from the moment it arises. If you’re not sure if you should ask the conductor, you can always start with your section leader. (Story time! During the last orchestra concert, I was having trouble hearing from where the harps were set on stage. I emailed the conductor and talked to the stage manager and it got cleared up! Problem solving for the win!)
Basically, it gets better with more experience, and also with a more objective attitude. Stay calm and believe in your capabilities and you’ll be fine. After all, what’s the best that could happen?