June is the beginning of a frenetic season of playing and performing music. After 18 months of restrictions, the warm weather means we are able to play and listen in public. Last week I attended my first concert, by three members of the Orchestre des Cévennes. The music – lots of light, well known melodies, was not really my taste, but still, good to be listening again.
The same day the Ecole de Musique’s cello students had an end of term ‘audition’, with the families of the young musicians as the audience.. It is nearly two years since we have met and some pupils are getting really good.
I am of course by far the oldest élève at the school. I played part of the Kol Nidrei by Bruch, as usual plagued by performance nerves. So frustrating not to have played it as well as I had that morning when all alone, and to know I will never have another chance to remedy the Kol Nidrei properly.
I also played two Schubert lieder, cleverly arranged for a cello ensemble at different stages. So while I played the main tune which was more challenging technically, there was a simple bass part for Nathalie, a clarinetist in our Saturday group, who started the cello just over a year ago. Anne, our teacher, provided some solidity in the middle.
The next outing was Monday 21st June, the Fête de la Musique in le Vigan. There were massive downpours and most events were postponed till the next day. But as the Ecole was playing in the Temple – indoors – our concert went ahead.
It was the usual chaotic Fete organisation, and we found we were playing after the le Vigan primary school, which meant we had not time to tune properly or work out how to shift instruments between performances – but we benefited (?!) from a packed audience of parents, grandparents and children who stayed on for our concert.
I think the disorganisation contributed to me having the worst case of performance nerves I have ever had. I could feel my right arm shaking as I drew it over the strings. And in the second piece disaster hit: something was slightly wrong with our start, I lost concentration and then I fumbled over the transition to a repeat passage towards the end. (Afterwards Anne said blithely that she had started the piece in the wrong key – and there I was thinking that the reason it sounded wrong was all my fault.) I was devastated and so angry with myself.
So why do I let myself in for these ordeals? I’m not sure. But when you really work on a piece of music over several weeks, the logical end is to play it to others. And I keep hoping I will find some way to conquer the problem of nerves. It is so strange that I have always found it more stressful to play music in public than to act or make speeches. Lots of musicians have nerves before performing, but once they start playing they are focussed on the music. Not me. Maybe it is because once the music starts there is no stopping, pausing or slowing down, whereas with a speech, you can always make a deliberate pause while you retrieve your concentration.
I’m not going to give up. I WILL manage to control my performance nerves. But I had better hurry up, before the arthritis which is taking grip of the fingers in my left hand progresses further.