I have recently given myself something else to recite when I feel like buckling, a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt—“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” Notice it isn't "you should" or "you might want to think about." You must do it. How else will you know what you’re capable of if you don’t do the things you have convinced yourself you are incapable of doing? How will you know for sure that you are not a failure or inadequate for the task or even just something more than mediocre? Even typing the word “mediocre” makes my skin crawl.
I put both of these inspiring quotes to good use this past weekend when the orchestra performed a concert. It was a sizable one with champion-style horn parts that required me to set aside my inclination to sit quietly in my chair and go unnoticed.
We opened the concert with “New England Triptych” by William Schuman. It’s pure Americana with a military snare worthy of sending off the troops, loud and optimistic horn rips for climbing the purple mountains and grievous woodwind passages for when Jesus wept at the sight of his heartbroken friends. Of course, Jesus wasn't American, but his life is woven into our fabric in ways we can hardly detect.
That was followed by Listz’s Piano Concerto No. 1 performed by Maira Liliestedt, a pianist from the area, sort of. The woman has these skinny little arms, but she can pound out notes like Alley Oop. The horn part was an accessory to the rest of the ensemble here, as it should be, but in my feeble head, I saw it as a feature and choked. Literally, I swallowed hard and said “you must do it, you must do it,” with an add on—don’t be such an idiot, and play the notes on the flipping page. Fortunately, the audience was focused on the pianist, so despite the thing that practically induced irritable bowel syndrome for the second horn player, I was allowed to sit in my puddle of insecurity with few noticing my weaknesses. I hope.
After intermission, we dove head first into Schumann’s Symphony No. 3. What an absolute treat this music is. It covers every aspect of being Homo sapiens—happiness, sorrow, whimsy, “I will do this thing for all it’s worth” determination, grace and uninhibited joy. And the horn section plays through it all with loud rips and sliding climbs and falls and quiet ensemble sections where each part intertwines with the next. And we end with bells up and notes screaming. You take your horn down at the end and breath heavy like you’ve been running a marathon. You have, in a way.
My part had quite a few bass notes held for measures at a time, and it felt good to sit on them and buzz through those low, gravely tones. Blogpal Dive at Small Glass Planet has talked about how playing the guitar feels good physically because of how the guitar reacts with the body. It’s not sexual, but it is sensual. That’s how playing bass notes on the French horn feels as they reverberate through the senses.
The entire performance required courage, strength and confident aptitude with joy and pride as payback. Seems that if all you ever do is sit quietly in your chair hoping to go unnoticed, your reward is sitting quietly in your chair and going unnoticed. So, you really do have to do the thing you think you cannot do. Even if you don't do it perfectly, and you wish you could go back and fix the mistakes you've made, you've still done it. And then you learn for the next time that you have no choice. You must.
For good measure, I took a few pictures during a rehearsal break. Here is what I see from my spot on the stage:
|To the left|
|Front and center with Listz on the stand—GAH!|
|To the right|