I play in a clarinet choir. We rehearse once a week – just enough to keep me happily engaged in music but not overwhelmed with practicing. Our first concert is tomorrow – we’re playing as one of a number of chamber ensembles. One one piece I’m the sole first clarinet, and on the other, I play Eb. Needless to say, I have some pretty important lines. I carry the melody. It’s important for me to play loudly and self-confidently.
I’m not so great at that last part.
I’ve always prided myself on being good at blending into an ensemble – it’s important to me that I am in tune, and that I sound “one” with those who share my part.
I also got comfortable, hidden away, not having to work hard at breath support and playing out, and not worrying about messing up.
It’s become a weekly thing, for my director to demand that I play louder – that I scribble out the “piano” and write “forte” instead. One week when I was being especially timid, in a moment of scolding me he said, “That’s why I put you on this part – so you couldn’t hide!”
I inwardly cringed. Oops. Yeah, he put his finger on something there! I may not have gotten much glory in hiding, but I certainly didn’t get shame, because someone else was covering for my mistakes.
Since then, bit by bit, I’ve been playing out more freely. I’ve been making mistakes. Loud mistakes. But there’s also been some loud beauty. Some confidence. Some melodies floating up and out.
And the ironic thing, with Eb at least, is that the louder I play, the better it sounds. When I try to play quietly and keep from being noticed, my pitch goes way out of wack. But when I play out… things fall together. Having confidence in an of itself makes my playing sound better.
This is a lesson I’ve been trying to apply in all of my classrooms. As a student, it’s easy to hide. For me, hiding can be a form of pride – when I don’t have something ‘oh-so-perfect’ to say, I just don’t say anything at all, lest I appear like a fool to my classmates.
But in my case, it’s counterproductive. If all of my classmates acted this way, no questions would be asked. No discussion would be had. Learning would be hindered.
So I’ve started to share more. I’ve started to ask more questions. I’ve decided that the risk of humiliation, and the risk of being a bit obnoxious, are risks worth taking. Because the act of simply taking a deep breath, and speaking out – that in and of itself makes a big difference. It’s the difference of engaging with studenthood, instead of letting its greatest joys pass me by.