Conquering the fear-god

When I have placed fear of making a mistake in the god-chair of my psyche, I play quite a lot worse. This is not a surprising or shocking revelation, of course, but because I’ve been playing so much of late, the difference has struck me anew. When I am terrified, my movements are more stilted. When I am afraid of making my entrances in case I make a mistake, and I am more likely to be late on my entrances. It’s harder to get a good sound, because I am more stiff, more tentative, have less flexibility and therefore less control from a technical standpoint. Of course, then a vicious cycle begins in which I fear making mistakes, and then I play worse, and then I make more mistakes, and then I fear them more, etc ad nauseum.

When I was in my first masters program, upon me playing something out of tune during a lesson I was having just a day or two before my recital, my teacher said, “There’s always something ugly.” Because I have an ego-identification with being ugly, incapable, and irresponsible, this went straight in, burning an acid path into my heart. I accepted it as a part of who I am. And my already extant fear of making intonation mistakes got an upgrade and was elevated to punishing-God status. It is very easy to project those judgements externally, and when I am in an internal place of fear, it’s easy to assume that others are feeling that way about me too. And then, every external input gets run through that filter.

Music and the music world can feel so wildly vulnerable, because when you perform you are out in the open, can’t hide. So this issue of mine gets quite a lot of play sometimes.

But music and the music world can also be incredibly healing. I had the exquisitely wonderful experience this weekend of performing in a concert in which the joy of the music, the performers, and the audience was palpable. The sense of connection was loving and vibrant. To be able to do that, to be in the heart of the glorious sound-ocean that is ensemble playing is an honor and a joy.

Prior to that concert I called my boyfriend and said, “Can I make mistakes and still enjoy myself?” In the conversation that ensued, I was able to kick fear back down to a more appropriate position in my internal landscape. And then, not being consumed with fear, my heart was open for more possibilities, and was able to receive the joy that arose during our performance.

Contrary to what that fear-god claims, self-flagellation does not in fact make me a more responsible human being; just a more unhappy one. And unhappiness is not a virtue.

All of this applies in other areas of life too, of course. It’s hard to muster or execute with grace when tied up in chains of terror of being wrong. I am slowly accepting this lesson in my heart, and allowing it to penetrate my feelings and my actions. There’s nothing wrong with fearing being wrong, or being not good enough, etc, etc. But using that fear to build a cage doesn’t help anyone. So, I am working on engaging with the fear from the point of view of discovering whether it has a useful message for which I can thank it and then dismiss it, or whether its aim is merely to reduce, imprison, and punish. Then, I can expand my point of view, open the window, and invite other input.



At last night’s concert we sat in the middle of the performance space, surrounded by the audience. I am curious how each section of audience experienced the evening, but I suspect that given the live acoustic, everyone could hear well.

The performance was effective. It is such a gift and privilege to be able to present music, to see it being received, to enjoy playing and to provide an artistic experience for the listeners.

Afterwards I went out with my friend S and one of my musician friends from the orchestra and had excellent drinks, food, and conversation. A very nice end to a very long and packed couple of weeks.

When I got home around 11:30 I could tell that my new sleep routine has taken effect, because I couldn’t wait to go to sleep. In fact, this morning I woke up and discovered that I hadn’t even taken my earrings out last night before tumbling into bed.

I am looking forward to a slower day today!

Hazel’s first concert, performing

What a great day. First of all, the twins slept ALL NIGHT LONG last night! As Ted was telling a friend today, it took a minute to recognize that weird feeling, of being somewhat well-rested. Thanks, kids! You did me a solid, that’s for sure (unlike the previous night, prior to concert number 2, but we’ll let bygones be bygones.)

Then I took Hazel with me to the dress rehearsal. She brought a book to entertain herself (smart move), but though she looked at it a bit, she mostly sat quietly and listened. When the group in between the two in which I was playing was rehearsing I asked Hazel if she wanted to go back to the green room with me to wait, but she emphatically said that she wanted to stay in the hall and hear the music. She waited until the musicians weren’t playing to ask her questions. She did extraordinarily well until the very end, when she was hungry and a bit fidgety, but even then, sitting close to me satisfied her. On the walk home I asked her if she had a favorite part, and she said, “the piece with all the instruments they were blowing into,” ie, the Ligeti “Six Bagatelles For Wind Quintet” with oboe, clarinet, flute, horn, and bassoon. She was fascinated by the bassoon. And then she said, so sweetly, “But I liked all the string things too, Mom”.

We had lunch when we got home, and Ted and I managed to get the twins down, though Hazel and I had to leave before Ted was done getting Emily to sleep. We walked back over to the venue, protein bars in my pocket for the intermission. I found some friends who took Hazel to the bathroom for a pre-concert potty break, and went back to the green room. Ted had arrived before the concert started, and I was able to relax and let my brain turn to music.

It was a long concert, almost two hours with intermission. She sat through it without a peep. She did, apparently, whisper a couple of questions to Ted, but very quietly. And she enjoyed the music. Later she said that it was long for her, and I believe it. But she did it! Her first concert.

I remember my first concert: it was the occasion on which I decided I wanted to play the cello. I wonder if some such long-term life-impacting decision will manifest itself for Hazel after today. And if not, that’s totally cool too. I am just happy she had a good time, and that she could see me in that professional arena.

The Britten oboe quartet, “Phantasy”, went exceptionally well. It was that lovely performance experience in which you feel engaged and wonderful playing, and you can tell also that what you’re playing is coming across, being effective for the audience. I love the space in which we played. It’s resonant but not too wet, and the music expands to fill every crevice, floats on the air up to the ceiling, to the back of the hall. There is no bad place to sit. You can hear well from every chair.

The Beethoven trio went very well too, but I was having pretty bad nerves through most of it, so it was occasionally a bit more fraught experience. Nonetheless, there were moments of pleasure and joy. I love looking up to check in with my colleagues at moments where we have phrases together. The second movement went beautifully, and the last movement was a wild ride, super fast and exciting.

It was also lovely to see friends and students in the audience. It is joy to share what I love with people I know.

After the concert we took Hazel out for dinner. When we got home we spent some more enjoyable time hanging out with our wonderful nanny and all the kids and the cats, watching the latter play together and talking. It was great to relax. I felt, suddenly, tired enough to sleep for a week.

But given that I’m teaching tomorrow and have another gig next week, I wanted to use the time off I had, so I went to the spa this evening, where I had more good conversation with a friend, a fantastic body scrub, and marvelous time lolling about in the heated pools.

All in all, a truly fantastic day.

good rehearsals, packed day, teaching and patience

We ran through the Beethoven tonight, and it wasn’t as challenging to get through, in terms of energy level, than I had feared it might be. We know it very well now, and I enjoyed playing the piece as a whole work.

This afternoon the modern group rehearsed, and we got through the most challenging parts of Ire quite well, too. I have some heavy, loud pizzicatos in the other piece, and am on the verge of getting a blister, but have to practice that passage more tomorrow morning. I shall have to be judicious about it, so it’s not too painful during the concert.

I had absolutely no transition between the intense afternoon rehearsal and the teaching that was sandwiched between it and the evening rehearsal. I did not handle that segue very well: going from rehearsing a piece that’s at a very high professional level and demands an extraordinary amount of focus to teaching a beginning student requires a serious perspective switch, and I didn’t do such a great job with that. I was overly critical in the first lesson immediately following the rehearsal. I apologized at the end, but really hate to have done anything as a teacher that requires an apology. I know that it’s human to make mistakes, but there is a judgment-addicted part of me that can only accept mistakes if they’re a) impossible to have predicted, b) not that important, and c) consequence-free. That part of me is a wuss, essentially, and has a hard time handling the realities of life.

I have similar challenges when I go straight from teaching cello lessons to helping Hazel practice. I think I might need to give myself a few meditative moments before helping Hazel, because it is surprisingly difficult for me to be graceful in that situation, too. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I have more of a struggle being patient than I do with my students. So that too, is a work in progress.

Just those glimpses into the difficulties of teaching one’s own child shows me that home-schooling my kids would be A Very Bad Idea (not that such a thing is in the plans).

I had a friend in college who once told me that he wasn’t sure whether I was the most open-minded judgmental person he’d ever known, or the most judgmental open-minded person. He said this with love, and I know what he means. I think I am pretty open, but I also have a heavy dose of judgment which is primarily self-directed, but which splashes outwards sometimes too. This does remind me of two of my mom’s favorite sayings, which are that there are 10,000 ways, and that it is important to be able to hold the opposites. I think that’s so important. Life doesn’t line up neatly like a Hallmark card. There are conflicts, internal and external, and achieving a good life doesn’t mean avoiding them. I am better at tolerating dissonance than I was when I was younger, and am grateful for that. I need that ability as a parent.

Life’s necessities, music, kids

Water and sleep. The necessities. I think I am going to have to go into survival mode for a while. My system can’t take much more of these fragmented 4-hour nights. I have to go to bed earlier so that I have a chance to get a couple of hours of zz’s before the babies wake up for the first time.

And my doc says I’m dehydrated (she ran some blood tests). So I need to do what I did when I was pregnant; get out my giant 24-oz water bottle and drink it down four times a day. Breastfeeding does use up fluids & other nutrients, so I need to keep supplementing my body while I’m still outputting so much.

I played a concert tonight. It was eclectic, music by four different composers. As always, there were fun people to play with, great musicians whose work and talent I appreciate so much. I feel lucky to have art in my life, as my profession. There is a wonderful set of overlapping music communities in the Pacific Northwest. The collaborative possibilities are many and varied. It’s a good place to live.

One of the composers helped me get back to my house (he carried the three stands and I carried the cello). On the way, he asked if I play for my kids. The question made me think. They hear me practicing, but I don’t actually get out the cello and play tunes for them. I think I should. There’s a song in the back of one of Hazel’s books that she’s asked me more than once to play for her. I think I’ll do it tomorrow.

random brain contents

Sometimes I know what I’m going to write about, and I start with the title first. Many times, I have no idea what or how the post content is going to manifest, and so I just start writing and figure it out along the way as things swirl around in my brain and surface. Here are some things that are zipping and bumbling around in the grey matter right now (in no particular order):  Hazel LOVES her babysitter Bryan, and it was quite fun to see their combined work of art on the white board this evening; coming home to screaming twins is hard, but it doesn’t wrap my guts around my brain pan in the way it used to, which is good; the speech Lana Wachowski gave when she received the Human Rights Council Visibility award was inspiring; I really do love the Vaughan Williams Thomas Tallis piece we’re doing on this concert; and finally, for me, completely subjectively, there is nothing more wonderful, beautiful, incredible, and any other fabulous -ful adjective you can think of than my two babies. I absolutely love how unstudied, honest, and open babies are. When they laugh, it’s because they wanted to. When they cry, it’s because they needed to. Yes, they’re responding to input all the time, but still, they offer you their communication and themselves entirely for free, no strings attached. I am insanely lucky.

Lana tells of how accepting her parents were when she made her transition, and I want to take that as a role model. I want to remember every day to be glad that my children are alive, that I can hug them and tell them that I love them. Not that life is always milk and honey, of course, but love is a verb, and part of its essence is acceptance.


Tomorrow we’re taking the kids to a Halloween party. We’ll have a monkey, a pea pod, and a bear. It’s a party for families with multiples, so the cute factor will explode the roof off of the building, I am sure. It will be good to meet other parents of twins, triplets, etc. We haven’t done anything like that yet.

Tomorrow is also the dress rehearsal and the performance. Somehow there also needs to be time for practicing. And cooking. And cleaning, as we’re hosting friends for Halloween.


Sunday I think I’ll go to the hospital with my friend to visit his father. He loves babies, cats, and fart jokes. I’m not good at telling the latter, but perhaps I’ll bring a picture of the twins, just in case he wakes up enough to see it.