Day 46, Stress Response

Practice: 2.5, Rehearsal: 1.5, Auditions: 1.  Another mild day except for the summer New World Symphony sub-list audition.  The guys who run these auditions are the nicest, friendliest people I’ve ever met in an audition setting and were kind enough to allow me to record my audition using my iPhone.  I’m really glad I did because my perception of how it went was significantly different from how I actually played.  In auditions I tend to let one small mistake make me feel like a whole section of music is ‘ruined.’  In reality, a small mistake is a small mistake.  At the time I gave myself no credit for things played very well.  Probably because I was too involved at the time to be able to step back and look at it.  I learned LOADS from the way I handle stress in auditions and came out of it thinking that I’m doing all the right stuff and I just need to play for more people, more often.

This audition and a certain orchestral part I’m working on both made me think about stress responses.  In an Alexander Technique context, you can see that people sometimes physically respond to non-physical stress.  The example I’ve heard a few times is changing your posture in your car when you’re driving and it’s raining.  Does it help?  No.  Does it make you tired?  Kinda.

An easy analog is stressful music.  What happens in the middle of a practice session when you get to that really gnarly part?  Sometimes we bend in, pull our face closer to the music as if the problem was that we couldn’t see the notes, hunch down, tighten up, and generally acquire some butt-ugly posture.  And this posture makes it harder to breathe, less ergonomic to move, messes with blood and oxygen circulation and generally makes it harder to live much less play the clarinet.  Challenging music can “make” you do this, but so can any stressful situation.  Auditions, performances, high-profile rehearsals…  But the smart thing to do…is to treat hard music as if it’s easy.  Feel easy, be easy, breathe easy, and in the end the music gets a little bit easier.  Don’t get in the way of yourself.

A micro-version of this that was pointed out in a lesson a week or two back: Sometimes I let my embouchure slip when my fingers get really busy.  (i.e. Firebird.)  As long as I make a conscious effort to hold my embouchure and not do any dumb “extra” things like leaning into the music stand, the technical bits become a great deal easier.  I’ve found that paying attention to the way I’m using my body has even helped me become less nervous before auditions.  There’s a lot to be said for that old advice “breathe!” and even more for “relax.”  It gets your blood flowing, oxygen to your brain and then suddenly your heart slows down and your hands shake less.  These attenuated sensations signal my brain that I’m feeling more centered and then suddenly I start to think that way, too.   And it’s a feedback loop of awesome. :)

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