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Recently I've become aware of a phobia that seems to be quite prevalent among musicians. It doesn't really matter if we're talking young or old, experienced or not as experienced, it crops up all the time. As a collaborator, it is a phobia in others that I deal with on a daily basis because I regularly find myself having to prod and nudge folks I'm supposed to be working with...
"Um, so, when is that performance we're doing? Isn't it coming up? You know we haven't ever played it together."
The response is typically...
"Well, it's just that I'm not quite ready yet. It's not sounding like I want it to."
To which I usually reply, with varying degrees of supportive exasperation (yes, there is such a thing)...
"When do we ever feel it's really ready?!?!?"
Trust me, I understand the phobia. I am tempted to avoid scheduling that first rehearsal too and I typically have plenty of butterflies in my tummy when it does happen. But afterward I almost always feel an incredible sense of relief because it gives me a realistic idea and assessment of where I am with learning the music, of how difficult or not difficult it is going to be to put it together, and it injects me with an different dose of enthusiasm for the music as a whole. The pieces of the puzzle are all there finally - what can be better than that?
- I schedule it weeks, if not months, in advance of the performance when possible.
- I don't have a goal of being even close to perfect.
- I don't go into it feeling like I want to impress the other musicians.
- I am honest when I walk into the rehearsal about which parts are still challenging for me. (Note: I do this without beating myself up or apologizing. I keep it as objective as possible, not only for myself but also for my colleagues. There's never any need for all that drama.)
- If there's a passage that doesn't go together easily after a little work I encourage us to move on without guilt or discouragement.
- I approach the rehearsal with a sense of play as much as possible - that is, after all, what we say we're doing when we're at our instruments.
- I listen to how the music sounds with all the parts together and soak in as much as possible so that when I am alone in my practice room I can let the sound of the other parts guide my practicing.
- I walk away from the rehearsal knowing that even if there were lots of wrong notes and it didn't feel as good as it had been feeling in the practice room, the rehearsal was productive and important.
Post first rehearsal I typically head into my next practice session looking forward to a renewed sense of purpose and enthusiasm for the music. And since I am more likely to schedule the next rehearsal, and then the next since the initial wall of fear has already been broken down, I can head into the final performance knowing that the music has had plenty of time to ferment in a good way - that the musicians I'm playing with and I have had many occasions to try out different things, work our way out of interesting situations, and get comfortable with one another and the music.
Makes that phobia seem kind of unnecessary, doesn't it? (Can you tell I've gone through cognitive therapy? Not for this, but plenty of other things. That's for another blog.)
An extra note for students and young musicians that work with piano collaborators. I may not speak for every pianist out there but for me I'd rather have that first rehearsal a safe distance away from any given performance not only for your sake but also for mine. Yes, we have a lot of things on our plates but at the same time we know that your comfort and security will lead to our comfort and security and vice versa. And when everyone is feeling good walking out onto that stage we have more of a chance of getting out there and just playing. So please don't delay the inevitable. Please don't think that we're going to be disappointed if you're not perfect because I promise you we aren't either. We're in this together so let's ditch the phobia and make some music!