A little update...
Well, it's been a while!
In the time since I last updated this blog, I think I've taken 3 or 4 auditions, had some pretty epic gigs, started a chamber group, and pretty much lost my mind in the process. But now, with summer upon us once again, it is time to update you all on my goings on...
Today's post will be about my recent audition experiences and my preparation for them. I've had a little bit of a rough go with auditions in the last couple years, and I'm not 100% sure why. The obvious, but no less true, answer is that my early successes has put unrealistic expectations in my head, and as I fail to meet those unrealistic expectations, I doubt myself and get even more stressed out in what is already a very stressful situation. Adding to that pressure, there's the understanding that now that I am out of school, every audition I take could be the one to change my life. While true, it's not the best thing to have going through your mind as you walk on stage knowing that in about 4 minutes it could all be over.
The audition panel... probably.
A couple years ago I had my first ever panic attack. It happened on stage in the first round of an audition, as I walked along the carpet towards the stand. I remember a few things very distinctly:
1. My heart started beating erratically and almost painfully hard.
2. My brain shut off. Full on deer-in-headlights, not capable of coherent thought, staring blankly into the abyss, off. I know now if I was ever to be attacked by a bear I would most definitely be mauled to death. No quick thinking for me.
3. I was either going to be sick or die. It was vomit or a stroke. Luckily neither actually happened.
Through all of that, I still managed to play through the list. The committee actually gave me a second chance at the Mendelssohn Scherzo from A Midsummer Night's Dream - the exact words were "could you play that again with the dynamics written on the page?" So even with all that, they liked me enough to get me to play through something again and hopefully correct something. It wasn't enough, as I didn't make the first cut, but at that point it was such a relief to be able to leave that I was very ok with that decision.
What I wanted to do. I didn't, I swear.
That day was a turning point for me - if was the day I realized I could no longer just rely on my playing to get me by, because the playing wasn't the issue anymore. I needed to become a more well-rounded performer who focused on the mental aspect of performing as much as the physical. And after that panic attack, the mental side of performing was at an all-time low.
Shortly after that day, as luck would have it, I came across Camille Charbonneau, who at the time was studying to be a mental performance consultant (her info below). I got in contact with her and we started working on some of my demons. It has been really interesting going through this process and seeing how my priorities have changed. What I felt initially was a lack of focus and preparation in my playing has shifted into a lack of mental preparation and understanding of how to deal with my nerves. So now, several months into this exploration, I have come to an understanding: I play well. Really damn well. I've subbed in with a major professional orchestra, did well enough that they hired me again, I've been added to the substitute musician list for another major orchestra. That's an indication that I know what I'm doing and I'm doing it consistently and to a high enough level to play with the big kids. So at the end of the day, I know that the issue is not with my playing abilities or the preparation of my audition excerpts. What has been lacking has been mental preparation.
Luckily for me, I work in a health clinic with all sorts of wonderful people. While most of the therapies deal with physical ailments, we do have a hypnotherapist on staff. So I went to see him and we had a session which he recorded so I could listen to it every night until his instructions got into my subconscious. It starts off with relaxation techniques to get my brain to stop buzzing so I can actually listen to his message, then we went through the whole audition preparation process, from getting the list of excerpts to the day of the audition, through to me walking off stage feeling great. Those relaxation techniques worked like a charm because I have never slept better. Prior to my first session I was having some serious sleep anxiety issues that have more or less vanished now. We did a second, shorter session that was focused on a specific audition, and while I didn't advance, I felt I played closer to how I had prepared and my nerves were much more manageable. So that's a big step in the right direction! i'm very curious to find out how it progresses going forward.
Now the big challenge for me is tackling my nervous symptoms. I know they'll never actually go away, and that they like to show up at the most inconvenient times, but I can normalize them to a certain extent. For me the big ones are the shortness of breath and the thumping heart beat - those are physical reactions to stress, there's no getting around it. They are going to be there no matter how well I prepare. All I can do is learn to play better while they do their thing, so it's time to get into a solid cardio routine. Luckily for me, summer has finally decided to show up to the party, so the weather is perfect for biking and jogging. A co-worker of mine with a musical theatre background mentioned to me one of his castmates a few years ago prepared his role by singing his entire role while running on a treadmill (insane!), so I've taken that into consideration by singing along to a few of my favourite albums while biking to and from work (round trip of roughly 16-17km). I never realized how much breath control is needed to sing through Gordon by the Barenaked Ladies. Or The Book of Mormon. Or In the Heights. I...don't know the words to anything else, really.
I would seriously wear either of these as a running outfit. #noshame
That's all for now. I've got lots of ideas to put down on paper and set goals for, but I'll save that for the next update.
Until next time!
Contact info for the fantastic people who have been helping me:
Peak Perform, Mental Performance Consulting
Raymond Elias, hypnotherapist
Satori Health and Wellness