Music performances are high-risk activities. Not in an “extreme sports” kind of way, but because matter how prepared you are, there remains a chance that things will go wrong once you get onstage. (Though, to be clear to any student who has just interpreted that sentence as permission not to bother with practice, let me assure you that practice (a) significantly reduces the risk of something going wrong and (b) gives you a better ability to recover if it does!)
When I was at uni, I studied the oboe as a “second instrument” (yes, I am that cool – hard to believe I know!). The oboe is an incredible instrument, but it’s quite a temperamental and unpredictable one. One day I had a performance assessment in front of the entire music student body, playing a song I loved and that I’d worked really hard on (Gabriel’s Oboe from The Mission). It went really badly and I was embarrassed.
But in the next moment I learnt a really valuable lesson. I sat back down with the group, wishing the floor would swallow me whole. I happened to sit next to Olga, a beautiful, gentle opera singer who always gave amazing performances. She reached out and patted me kindly on the knee and simply said “next time, you will do better”.
It’s not what we’re used to hearing when things go wrong. Usually we try to convince people “that was great!” or we exclaim “what are you upset about, it was AWESOME!”. But Olga’s reaction was perfect on so many levels because:
- she acknowledged that I was upset and gave me permission to feel that way
- she didn’t patronise me by pretending that I had done well
- she didn’t suggest that I had done anything wrong in my preparation but gave me the benefit of the doubt that it had all fallen apart on stage
- she showed faith that I was capable of so much more
And you know what, next time I did do better. I figured out what had gone wrong (one of my oboe’s tiny holes had become blocked with moisture – ie spit!), learnt how to fix it and I never had that problem again.
It was over 12 years ago now but it’s a lesson that has stayed with me, both as a performer, the wife of a performer and as a teacher.
So next time your or your child’s performance goes embarrassingly wrong, remember – next time, you will do better.