Thursday, January 25, 2007

Nirvana (my version)

I promised to tell a story today about finding a kind of nirvana on stage. True to form, a couple of commenters immediately thought that perhaps some sort of pole would have been involved.

Thanks bunches for that, y'all.

And no, there were no poles involved. At least not THAT time.

So, here we go with the story.....and no, it's not going to be funny. Go Fark yourself if you want funny, mmmmkay?


I'm a French Horn player. Or, at least, I was. I played a lot. And well. I can say that now, with the years of not really playing much behind me, because thinking back on how I played when I was playing kind of astound me now.

Mozart concertos = no problem. Beethoven symphonies = no problem. Jazz horn duets and quartets and octets = no problem. Playing music was one of the most gratifying and wonderful things I've ever done. It was wonderful to be challenged by sight transposition, to woodshed a difficult piece, to play in 7/4 time or to triple-tongue almost impossible passages or to really really learn to slur without cracking. It was pure visceral enjoyment to make something work, to get closer to perfection, to know that not matter what was thrown at me I could probably handle it.

But none of it came easy. None of it. It all required practice. Hours and hours and hours. sometimes late into the night, slaving away over Kopprasch or chromatic scales or a new ensemble piece, learning the way of the notes, the places to breathe, to spot to empty out the spit so that the horn would gargle in the next passage. Hours and hours spent in tiny practice rooms, playing to an audience of none, working to get it right.

"Clamming" was not an option, by and large. ( The clam is a species of poor playing known to most musicians, though perhaps under other names. The clam is that note that is played so very wrongly that even the most tin-eared old dust-farter could tell that you'd just screwed up in a most horrific fashion. Clams, therefore, are NOT a delicacy in the music world)

Concert times were also tough. Nerves. Jitters. No matter how well I knew what I was doing, they'd creep up and attack when I wasn't fully guarded. Usually, sometime after I'd donned the black taffeta floor length gown and was standing backstage in the stairwell with the other brass players. Maybe it was the gown that did it, now that I think of it. Maybe the bodice was a little tight, constricting the breathing. Maybe there may have been a touch too much d├ęcolletage showing, but heck, my MOM bought it for me, so that means it passed her "are you dressed like a tramp" test. But still, the nerves. Horrible. Have you ever felt your heart beating in your throat, and it wasn't because something nice was happening? Have you ever felt like maybe taking a puke-break would be a GOOD thing to do, and you weren't sick or drunk? That's the kind of stage fright I got. Usually took the first 10 minutes of playing to snap out of it.

So, you can imagine that "effortless" would not normally describe how I felt about playing. Yes, I loved it, but no, I wouldn't say it came so naturally it was like breathing.

Except, this one time.

I don't recall what we were playing the first time this happened to me. Doesn't matter anyhow. We were playing something orchestral and grand, I'm sure. We did that a lot, being as how we were an orchestra and all. I was in the black dress. I was smack in the heart of the stage, lights and people and sound all around.

And then, I wasn't. All at once I was out of my reality. I was blowing in, notes were coming out, but I wasn't really making them. There was no pressure on my lips, no sensation of weight on my right thigh from the bell, no effort at all, anywhere. I was PLAYING, effortlessly. It was divine. It was heavenly, It was nirvana, pure joy. Absolute bliss. I had gone beyond the barrier of myself to the other side, in which the music flowed as naturally from me as breathing.

It was just for a moment, a few bars, but it was a moment of transport, some small happenstance that took me beyond myself, to a place I didn't think I'd ever get. I became, to myself, a musician.

Have you ever had a moment like that? Like, maybe, skiing and realizing you're fully in control and aware? Or, reading a book and losing all track of time? Or, swimming and feeling utterly weightless and aquatic? Tell me about it, won't you?

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