Life-Changing Performances: Never Apologize

Today's post from The Sensible Flutist, 'Enriching your artistry through life experience' inspired me to reflect on my most life-changing experience as a performer. When I consider my most thrilling experience on stage, this is the performance that I think of. It was the first time I truly connected to my own emotions while listening to the piece I was playing. Personal experience truly does enrich one's art.

Last summer, as a part of my Musicians' Wellness research, I attended Amy Porter's Anatomy of Sound workshop at the University of Michigan. The guest artist was Ian Clarke, and I was to play Sunstreams for one of the first classes: Clarke compositions with little or no extended techniques.
After I played it through once, Ian asked me what I thought I could improve upon. I really didn't know what to say, so I mentioned something about giving the piece more character. Then he asked the audience what they enjoyed about it. I was surprised when many participants offered kind, positive comments.

Mr. Clarke hadn't quite made his point yet, so he decided to show me what I needed to improve by taking away my music stand
   
He asked, "How do you feel now?" 
I responded with a very honest: "Horrified." 
Everyone laughed.
  
He told me to let go and play. "Just make it up if you have to." Listen to the piano and hear the music.
   
Panicked thoughts flooding my brain: 
"BUT I HAVEN'T MEMORIZED THIS. I ONLY STARTED LEARNING IT TWO WEEKS AGO. YOU WROTE THIS PIECE AND I'M ABOUT TO BUTCHER IT. AMY PORTER IS SITTING OVER THERE WATCHING ME. THAT GIRL STUDIES WITH (FILL-IN-THE-BLANK FAMOUS TEACHER) AND SHE'S GOING TO JUDGE ME. I DON'T KNOW HOW TO IMPROVISE."
   
Tim Carey began playing the opening bars. I felt confident in my ability to come in on my first E-natural at the beginning. The first phrase was a success and I started to relax.
I managed to play almost the entire piece from memory. Without having a music stand, I felt an incredible sense of fear and risk, but it was thrilling.
   
I have never felt more "in the moment."
I was looking out at my audience, and I felt personally connected with each person. Everyone was making eye contact with me, and it helped me to feel more alive than anything. I already knew they were on my side after their verbal comments. I could feel their support and encouragement.
  
I was hearing the music. I was completely aware of Tim Carey playing behind me. I watched Mr. Clarke run to the middle of the hall to egg me on, and I started to really play to the large recital hall.
   
I looked to the top seats at the back of the hall while I played, and I pictured an individual that stirred an emotional place in me. I poured my heart out. I vented, expressed anger, sadness, disappointment, asked questions... I said things that I had yet to express verbally. I experienced a feeling of strength and healing.
   
I filled the hall. I felt huge. I felt powerful. I embodied the "stand-and-deliver" ideal. I was in control and free. I have never felt so connected. To myself. To an audience. To a piece.
  
The audience demonstrated that I had moved them. Some were actually crying. For me. Because of me. They applauded excitedly when I finished, and Amy Porter let out a "WOOOHOOO!!" (I cried for 3 days after this.)
  
A recently certified Andover Educator was in attendance, and she offered me a wonderful observation: "After he removed the music stand, you moved more. It was really beautiful."
   
According to Mr. Clarke, before, during and after my initial performance, I gave the impression that I was apologizing for myself: "It looked like you were saying, 'I'm about to play Sunstreams, I'm really sorry. You don't have to like it. You don't even have to listen. I'm just going to hide until it's over.'"
  
The thing that I thought was giving me confidence (my music stand), was actually crippling me. Mr. Clarke taught me that I have nothing if I don't believe in myself.
   
Stop apologizing. You are capable. You have something to say. Be in control, and believe that you deserve to create something amazing.
  
Lesson: You have everything when you believe in yourself. Show them who you are and what you have to say, and never apologize.