October 1 was an important day for me. The funny thing is, when I woke up, I had no idea that it would turn out to be such a monumental occasion. It was “Harp Day” here at Michigan State University, and our whole harp studio was excited to be welcoming visitors to enjoy a full day jam packed with harping.
The day started out like years past, our professor, Chen-Yu Huang, gave a masterclass for those who wanted to participate. Like usual, some people performed for her and she gave excellent musical advice to all of them, including me. We took a break for lunch, then came back to attend a couple of great workshops given by our DMA and master students. Then some participants joined us to rehearse a group piece in a fun harp jam session. We concluded the day with a participants recital in the evening. Only three of us were to perform, two visitors and myself. The first two girls went first, and they both gave fantastic performances. They were both in highschool, and both were seemingly confident and delivered their pieces well.
Eventually, it was my turn to get up and play. I was to play a Naderman Sonata that I had performed several times before, and was fairly confident in the handle I had on the piece. Up to that point, my memorization of the piece was relatively solid. I got up to perform, and I started off well. But very early on, my brain froze. The score that I had in my head vanished. I wasn’t nervous, I hadn’t under-prepared, but I choked. Sure, I’ve made mistakes before, but I’ve never had to stop during a piece. I certainly have never had to stop, put the harp down, and start over. And choke again. My professor looked at me with a confused face. I laughed and said “I don’t know what’s happening to me today.” She threw me a lifeline and announced that I’ve just had a long day and that it was okay for us to just move on to the harp jam performance. Initially I shrugged it off, and joined the group to perform.
Backstage afterwards I started freaking out. My professor came up and told me that it was fine, and that stuff like this happened to everyone. “I’m sorry.” Was all I could get out at first. Of course, I shortly transitioned into freak out mode which consisted of me repeatedly asking if she had plans to get me kicked out of the school or at least have my scholarship revoked. She assured me that no such thing would happen over one poor performance, but I continued to apologize until she said “If it makes you feel any better, I forgive you.” Honestly, it made me feel a bit better.
The following day I sat down and played the piece perfectly. I continued to practice that one piece for a solid five hours. I drilled it over and over again. I had to ensure that it was back in my brain. This piece is supposed to be the opening piece for my solo recital in November. It has to be perfect.
I have never felt so low as a musician. Now that some time has passed, I was able to bring myself to write about it. I thought it would help me feel better about my complete and utter failure, and cause me to think about the experience in a new way. I’m not going to lie, I’m still very disappointed with myself. However, it’s over and there’s nothing I can do about it now, besides continue to work hard.
We all have our failures in life I guess. This was my worst one thus far as a musician, and I certainly hope something this terrifying doesn’t happen again, but hey, it could. I’m slowly learning to shrug it off, and I’m making myself face my daily practice sessions with the same resolve as I did before this incident. We can only learn from our mistakes. This is why that Saturday ended up being such an important day for me. I learned to deal with horrible mistakes and failures. That’s all behind me, and now I’m ready to go forth and prosper.