My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Friday, March 2, 2012

A story of gaining and regaining perspective post-competition

This past weekend I crashed a really big cello party - I simply couldn't help it.  You get a building full of cellists, be they young or old, and I start to feel a need to be there.  Typically I ignore any inclinations I have to join in the fun but this time I succumbed because of a handful of kids.  I wanted to be there to support some young cellists that I regularly play for while they competed in a competition that was part of the workshop experience.  

Image from Wikimedia Commons
I am so very glad that I did.  Not only did I eagerly savor the chance to play great cello music with talented young kids and with some of the faculty as well, but I was also given an opportunity to guide one particular cellist through a bit of a thorny, emotional state, post-competition.  

Here's her story.

The cellist in question, a teenager, is a very talented young girl.  She's quite the perfectionist which has turned her into a very hard worker.  Lately we have been encouraging her to connect more and more with the musical side of herself, especially in performance, so that her musicality can match her facility at the cello.  This has not been an easy task and as this past weekend was drawing near she seemed quite frustrated and discouraged, yet also determined to up her game.  At the first round of competition, which was unaccompanied, she stepped up to the plate, showing us what she's all about and how she feels about the music in spite of some memory slips in one of her selections.  I was amazed at her recovery and proud of her for not giving up on a musical performance in spite of the initial stumbles.  

After that first round we had quite a little talk about the whole memory thing.  Ugh.  Memory.  I struggle with this issue because I have a difficult time feeling comfortable playing without music myself.  I tried to encourage her by pointing out how musically she played and that that in itself was an incredible victory for her.  After some cajoling she seemed to be ok.  After discovering that she had made the finals, she was even better.

Then came the finals.

Starting with solo Bach she experienced several memory issues again but delivered an absolutely stunning interpretation.  Bach is in her blood and that is very clear from the moment she draws the bow across the string.  Her connection to the music continued with her concerto selection and she showed a side of herself I had rarely seen.  It was one of those moments I won't forget easily.

Then came the waiting.
Then came the results.

The judges decided to make it a tie for first place with this young girl being one of them.  Although we were all incredibly proud of her, she did not seem happy.  The memory issue had cropped up yet again and she wondered if it was the memory that had kept her from taking first place all to herself.  It was a sentiment I completely understood and it was one that brought back plenty of memories of my own similar struggles and questions.  I didn't know what to say to her.

Later, as we were driving home, I tried to say a few encouraging things but to no avail.  She was understandably upset.  After a while she decided that what she really wanted to do was to listen to one of her favorite stories, "Vivaldi's Ring of Mystery." *  As with all the Classical Kids' stories, this one is fantastic and never fails to make me teary in the end.  In this particular situation, I was also moved by how this young cellist and I were sharing something magical through listening to this story that means so much to both of us individually.  It was a way to reconnect again after a somewhat trying occasion.  

As soon as the story was done the girl's mother pulled over at a gas station to fill their car up.  It was then that something dawned on me.  While we were alone in the car I looked back at the girl and said something like this - 

"That story moves you, doesn't it?  And the music moves you too, right?"

(She nodded.)

"Let me ask you this...does that story involve memorizing music in any way whatsoever?  Is that why you like listening to the CD?  Or do you like it because it's just downright awesome, moving, and thrilling?"  

(She smiled.)

I then proceeded to retell a part of the story as if music memory was important, with Vivaldi reprimanding the main character, Katarina, for having a memory slip, or not accepting her into their orchestra because she can't memorize music.  

(She laughed.)

"I love this CD because it moves me.  It doesn't impress me.  It moves me.  In the end, what would you rather be remembered by - your ability to impress people with your memory skills or your ability to move people through your playing?"

That was the end of the conversation but not the end of a sweet smile that stayed on her face the remainder of the way home.

* In case you haven't heard any of Classical Kids' stories, I highly recommend them.  They are staples in our household.  

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