How long should I feel bad after a missed note?
FOREVER! …(diabolical laughter)!!…(more diabolical laughter)!!!
If you are anything like me, you are probably pretty hard on yourself. You don’t rest well with mistakes, and you have a strong drive for perfection. The question for me is this:
How quickly can I come back to feeling inspiration in the moment after making an embarrassing mistake?
This past Sunday I had a chance to explore that very question. I was performing Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring (for 13 instruments), and just at the part where I thought I was counting perfectly, I came in, all by myself in a… Big. Fat. Juicy. Rest.
My regret-o-meter shot to critical levels and refused to come down, tearing my attention away from the passage I was already well into. How I longed to go back and replay those measures to give the audience the chance to hear how they really ought to be played with glorious unadulterated unison silences.
Not going to happen.
I tried to imagine it never happened. Didn’t help.
I tried to let it go. My guilt clung like saran wrap.
I tried to not care. It simply isn’t in my nature.
My mind was well into response mode, repeating the familiar mantra:
Don’t screw up! Don’t screw up!
These words typically come immediately after initial mistakes are made, and they are precisely the words that take us out of our flow. By concentrating on what NOT to do, you block the inner flow of inspiration.
And then I tried this:
I mentally confessed my crime to the universe, laying my soul bare. I expected the piercing stab of classical-music guilt, but instead realized this:
There was no one but myself that could be judge, jury, and executioner. Furthermore, the audience didn’t come to witness a beheading. They were there to feel the thrill of the music and the inspiration of the performers, and hopefully not to look for our flaws.
So I gathered all my good karma of detachment I could find from beneath the sofa cushions of my soul. I practiced what I had just preached in my workshop the day before.
I engaged the lift.
I concentrated on what would keep my energy flowing upward. I hitched a ride on the audiences enjoyment and stole a lift of energy. Then I added the joy that is always present during Appalachian Spring, and sallied forth, bloodied, but unbowed.
What audacity! Shouldn’t I be ashamed of myself? Not this time. Time to experiment and create new reactions that dwell on discrimination rather than self-judgement.
Was it easy? Absolutely not. It took all of my effort to stay positive, staying on track, avoiding the well-established pitfall of feeling badly about what happened. Like a scab, it is so easy to dwell and pick away at the if only’s of performances that will continue to haunt even the most seasoned performer.
I simply refused to dwell.
Gradually, the whirlpool of negative reaction didn’t seem so dangerous anymore. I slackened my grip and allowed myself to once again enter the waters of flow. I longed to share my joy of this masterpiece with the audience, and was not going to leave the stage until they felt it.
The piece ended, and the audience immediately rose to their feet. But I missed that entrance! said a tiny voice in my head.
Yes I did.
I breathed. I smiled. I confessed my regret to my colleagues.
But nobody cared.
So go out. Make a few mistakes. We all have that right.