The Scariest Thing I’ve Ever Done and How I Faced My Demons.

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On September 16, 2015 I did the scariest thing I think I’ve ever done.

I played my first concert in nearly seven years. (That’s me on the left.)

I nearly lost my lunch before I walked out on stage. “WHAT AM I THINKING?! WHOSE INSANE IDEA WAS THIS?!”

You see, it wasn’t just seven years without performing, it was seven years without touching my cello for months and years at a time. I picked up my cello now and again to play here and there, and by here and there I mean 5 or 10 minutes in my home office where no one could hear me.

Getting back in shape was TORTURE.

It hurt to hold the bow.  It hurt to hold the cello. (Who knew that callus on the inside of my left knee was really valuable?!)  Speaking of calluses, those babies are INVALUABLE!  And you don’t know it until you don’t have them anymore.

As of August 15, I hadn’t played my cello in months.  I knew the deadline for this concert was looming, but other things took priority.

The motivation has to be REALLY HIGH to overcome the frustration of having once been at an extremely high level and now sitting down and not being able to play for more than 5 minutes at a time without hurting.

So how did I go from not being able to play for more than 5 minutes without hurting to performing a technically challenging cello duet that was a world premiere and Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht in less than a month?

Here’s How I Did It.

1.)  I WAS CRYSTAL CLEAR IN MY EXPECTATIONS.

I knew that expecting myself to play at the level I once could was futile.  So, what was a realistic expectation?

I had performed the Schoenberg several times so fortunately I didn’t have to learn it from the beginning.  However, I was playing with some really fantastic professionals who are all incredible musicians and I knew I didn’t want to hold the group back.

So it went from a goal of “Don’t SUCK” to “walk your talk.”

What does that even mean?

Well, my business The WholeHearted Musician™ is about fulfilling human potential.  It’s about:

  • Being your best self.
  • Focusing on creating the solution, not the problem.
  • Owning your talent and ability.
  • Fulfilling the person, not just the musician.
  • Being accountable to sharing that with the world.
  • Confidence and self-worth.
  • Making the world a better place with music.
  • Creating success by being your very best, rather than trying to be someone you’re not.

So I set goals like:

  • Play the best you can with where you’re at.
  • Be present.
  • Stay flexible and adaptable, not rigid and frozen.
  • Know your part
  • Know your role. (2nd cello in a string quartet does a lot of musical architecture like shaping harmony, supporting solos, leading rhythm, guiding tempo changes…)
  • Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t.
  • Remember why you love music.

2.) I HAD TO BE REAL.

The truth was, I was so out of shape, I didn’t even KNOW it could get THAT bad.  There was no possible way I was going to going to get back into my prime level of playing from where I was in the time I had.

I work 12-14 hours a day and I was lucky if I could practice 20-30 minutes a day.

I had to be real about where I was and where I wanted to go.

3.) I HAD TO BE METICULOUS ABOUT MY THOUGHTS.

I was under such time pressure to achieve so much in so little time that I literally COULD NOT AFFORD to think negative thoughts.

We had so few rehearsals that I had to bring my A Game. I had to be prepared and ready to go with an open mind and a positive attitude. I couldn’t afford to doubt myself, beat myself or worry if I was good enough. There literally was no time for that.

So I put all my focus on my desired outcome.

Did I falter? OF COURSE.  My demons came in now and again saying nasty things like “Maybe you were never really that good anyway. What are your clients going to think? They’ll hear you and go ‘Ohhhhhhh now I see why she quit.'”

What if I fail?  What if I suck? What if I can’t do what I expect my clients to do? What if I fall flat on my face?  What if I freeze?  What if I can’t express myself? What if I can’t play from my heart?  What if I hate it?

When the moment came to walk out on stage, everything changed instantly. I hear the cheers of my friends and colleagues.  I saw my husband smiling at me. I heard my step-daughter cheering from back stage.

A huge smile burst across my face and tears came to my eyes as I realized in that moment “THIS is all that matters.”

My bow shook, I was nervous. But it just didn’t matter.

The people did. The music did.

And that’s life.

You get to choose in every moment what you focus on in every moment. Courage or fear. Love or defense. Hope or dread.

What matters is how you bring yourself on stage. What are YOU going to choose?

 

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Thank you for reading this and sharing the journey with me.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

5 Comments

  1. Dana, I’m going to save this post to revisit when I can finally pick up my violin again. I haven’t played in earnest for almost four months; it will be five when I first hold the instrument again. I’m due back in the role of a titled chair in a full-time orchestra (with a new music director) in January. It’s good to have your thoughts — thanks for this entry!

    1. Sarah,
      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment, I really appreciate it.

      I wish you all the very best in your healing process. Please let me know if there is any way I can be of support.

      Sincerely,
      Dana

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