I wonder how professional musicians feel on concert days. Michael Jackson told Oprah he never got nervous. I'm quite sure that's unusual. Some argue that a bit of nervousness adds a needed edge. The true mark of a professional (in any field) may be an ideal combination of technique, intelligence, understanding, appreciation, preparedness, concentration, self-esteem, humility, and attitude. We amateurs lack one or more of those talents.
I'd guess the most common shortcomings are technique and preparedness. We want to play repertoire we aren't quite ready to handle. On the other hand, like the old saying, if you want to become better at tennis (or x), you need to play with someone better than you.
I'm often amazed by an artist's performance, as well as a composer's presentation, of the "simple." It's easy to be misled by something "simple." As I try to memorize the Schumann piano concerto, one of my stumbling blocks has been the first four measures of the cadenza near the end of the first movement, learning when each finger moves quietly, slowly, like a slo-mo Bach invention.
I sat down this morning of an Arrowhead Trio concert, Virginia neatly tucked away, and worked through our selections for this evening. In a sense, I did triage, which I don't suppose a professional would do unless lazy or overbooked. Focusing on the most difficult measures, I fought a struggling morale and prayed that tonight the odds would favor me (that is, if I can play a passage to my satisfaction six times out of ten, tonight each time will be one of those six). Perhaps I should have focused on the "easy" notes.
I imagine a professional is more astute at reducing the distractions. "Practice makes perfect" refers to more than technique, extending to things like being accustomed to performance situations (unfamiliar pianos and halls, different temperatures), instrument failures (faulty pedals, sticky keys), extraneous sounds (coughs, cellphones), accidental blunders, and the presence of critics. I find I can construct a bubble of sorts, but I'm not certain I've set the right balances. I don't want to be like the fellow who takes a prescription drug and loses his sympathy and passion.
What was it that derailed Virginia's career? She had everything, except maybe attitude.
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