Last night I performed in an opera, Pagliacci by Leoncavallo. As the orchestra played the opening measures, I reflected on the continual cycle I live through as a musician. While many people assume that I don’t feel nervous about performing because I am a professional musician, that’s definitely not the case. Especially when performing with an ensemble, I’m usually wondering a few minutes before each performance how I got myself into this situation.
Yet there are always parts in every orchestra work that move me, that make my heart soar or the back of my neck tingle: when I can feel the music through my chair and the very breathing of the ensemble is a tangible thing. And with it comes a forgetting of all that “how did I get myself into this?” business that started the evening.
And then the end comes. As a harpist I rarely play in the final measures of a piece. The composer, knowing that the harp wouldn’t be heard, usually doesn’t write anything for us. I listen, sometimes plugging my ears against the combined forces of my two closest neighbors: the timpani and flute. And then the applause and the feeling of intense satisfaction in a thing well done. And so I keep saying ‘yes’ when someone asks me to play in an orchestra, an opera, a musical, or a chamber group…
For a taste of the symphony that inspired the first half of this post, check out this video of David Maslanka’s Symphony No. 4, based on the tune from the Doxology. Listen to the whole thing if you have time; if not, listen to 3.30-6.30 for the bit described above, and 25.00-end for a glorious finale. Listen with good speakers, volume on high.
For another look at the cycle of nerves and pay-off that defines a musician’s life, read my post, A Performance Observed: Fear and Elation.
Featured image credit to Chan
Stephanie Claussen is a professional harpist from Minneapolis, Minnesota. She performs 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 announcements.