March 25th, 2017
Yesterday I joined a visiting wind ensemble for a concert of Navarro’s “Clarinet Concerto N. 1” and David Maslanka’ “A Child’s Garden of Dreams.” I had played the Maslanka in college, so I knew what I was signing up for. The piece is involved, technically challenging, and contains glorious moments of musical and metaphysical beauty. I spent many hours preparing, listening to YouTube renditions and marking cues in my score.
It paid off. Last night I was nervous, but I was able to keep the jitters at bay, more or less. I felt focused and confident. When I made mistakes I recognized them immediately and was able to get back “on.” When we reached the final page – a place of releasing tension and delicate harmonics and simply being – I blinked. Where had the rest of this mammoth piece gone?
It flew by, but not so fast that I missed out on several moments of utter euphoria. In terms of exhilaration and joy it doesn’t get much better than this. Maybe having a baby? (Meeting the baby, not birthing the baby.) Or winning a football game? I’ve never done either.
As I was wheeling my harp out of the sanctuary an elderly man stopped me to say thank you. “That was your heart, wasn’t it?” he said.
I smiled. “I think God made me to play harp.”
The man and his wife both smiled. “Well, He did a darn good job!” he declared.
I laughed and went off to load my harp with that happy thought in mind. I was on a high like the time I finished the Elliot Carter symphony my freshman year of college (in my journal I wrote that I felt “drunk with delirium – with gorgeous delight – with relief”) or the time I played the Brahms “4 Songs for Harp and Choir” (when I wrote, “I felt like laughing – dancing! I was done! I had done well!”)
I guess this is why I keep performing, despite the uncertainty beforehand: the jitters, the second-guessing, the “did I practice enough?”, the fear of failing.
For another look at the cycle of nerves and pay-off that defines a musician’s life, read my post, Two Weddings in One Day.
Stephanie Claussen is a professional harpist from Minneapolis, Minnesota. She performs on her harp throughout Minnesota in various concerts, recitals, and collaborations with other musicians. Sign up for her e-mail newsletter to be notified of upcoming performances and album releases.