Taking a risk

I took a risk yesterday. Not a greatly huge risk in the grand scheme of things. I didn’t launch myself off of a cliff with the merest of cloth as a parachute. I didn’t jump out of a hot air balloon from the edge of space. I didn’t put all of my hard-earned savings into one potentially dodgy company on the stockmarket. I didn’t dare to eat three day old rice (I’ve done that before and learnt very much the hard way that it’s not a great idea, believe me….Anyhoo). Nope. The risk I took was a musical one.

So what was this risk?

Well, as I said, it wasn’t really anything significant. I gave my first public performance of a piece I’ve been working on for sometime, a substantial piece and a key piece of the repertoire. And so I decided to play it from memory. And play it on a guitar which was not my own, showcasing a lovely new Alhambra Jose Miguel Moreno that’d I’d played once about three or four weeks ago. Importance of this – working with a different fretboard sizing and fret spacing than the one I’m so intimately used to playing. And yes, doing this whilst playing to a living, breathing audience. A very “safe” and friendly audience, but an audience nonetheless. And as you may know, something weird happens to the fabric of the spacetime continuum when playing for a live audience in comparison with playing to the dog in the study!

Did the risk pay off?

This depends on your definition of “pay off”, but actually yes. It did. Completely.

What the frekkers am I talking about, you may be saying at this point!

In terms of the musicality I brought to my playing and bringing the piece to life I was very happy – this was a big success and had some great positive feedback around this. I’ve been working so very hard on this aspect of the piece, so I was very pleased this aspect is working in the live situation. This is well bedded in. As is my physical approach to playing – the Alexander Technique lessons are really paying great dividends in live playing situations – significantly less tension than say this time last year. This is then having positive impacts on my tone quality and my ability to stay physically present with my playing and exercise and fantastic degree of control

In terms of me playing the piece flawlessly and note-perfectly and remembering it all without any blank spots, then no. Hah hah! One way to look at this is as a failure. This is not my view, however. My view is that this is a great lesson!! Did I spontaneously combust? No. Did I die of shame? Certainly not! Did my audience really care? Not really.

I saw this “safe” performance situation I was in as being able to test out where I was at in terms of really knowing the piece. I now know exactly which parts of the piece I need to focus on over my next few practice session.

Sitting and practicing in my comfortable, everyday practice studio gives me a lot in terms of building my technique, learning a piece, getting to know a piece and all that stuff. But getting out there into a performance situation teaches you something that you just can’t get in your normal practice routine.

To get comfortable with uncomfortable, you’ve first got to get uncomfortable!

So why did I do this?

I’m looking to move myself way beyond my existing comfort zone, to expand my comfort zone, as I move towards my AMusA diploma recital.

And this means getting uncomfortable. And not just getting uncomfortable, but getting uncomfortable often, in different settings, with different people, with different instruments. At the drop of a hat. Again. And again.

I’m after stretching myself so far like a rubber band that it doesn’t ping back to the old shape, it sticks with the new stretched one as it’s gone too far to ever go back.

Yes, it can feel scary doing this, but think of what daring to do this, what taking a risk (which isn’t really a risk at all, but a lesson) can give you.

As artists, as musicians, as students (and I believe we are each all of these things at any one time) we need to get comfortable with taking a risk from time to time.

Why? By moving out of our comfort zone we move into the zone where we are really learning, developing and growing.

And what do we risk by staying in our comfort zone and not giving something a bash? 

We risk not taking the feedback, the data, the information from an experience, learning from it and applying it to continually improve. We risk stagnating. We risk not really giving life to our music, by communicating and sharing our work with others. We risk not really not knowing what we’re capable of.


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