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  • Writer's pictureQueen Reed

Let's Get Stretchy

We grow musically when we put ourselves in an uncomfortable position – stretching beyond what feels safe. What are some situations that are really uncomfortable for most of us? How about baring your musical ability and soul in public? Or the closely-related prospect of complete humiliation in front of friends, family, colleagues, and enemies? How about the prospect of not living up to our own musical standards? For the longest time, I didn’t make recordings. And when I did, I didn’t listen back. Well, okay – I listened back ONCE. And that was enough to never listen again for about 15 years. When we listen back to our performances, we become part of the audience (whom we imagine to be very judgmental). And the possibility that what the audience hears (one reality) does not match what we heard and felt while playing (another reality), is too painful/terrifying (“I can’t believe I sound that bad!”). An affront to our internal reality can send us reeling into insecurity. Instead of avoiding this insecurity, embrace the discomfort. Put yourself in that uncomfortable place, observe your fear and insecurity, respect that it exists, and keep playing. Rinse and Repeat.

If you have never really faced yourself as an audience member, It Is Time. Sit down and play, don’t fuss your reed, don’t warm up for an hour and half, just play - play something you like, something you think you’re horrible at, doesn’t matter. Record yourself on whatever you have handy. We are not going for archival-quality, we are going for a polaroid snapshot. When you are ready, grab a stuffed animal, a cozy blanket, a hot-chocolate, a whisky, whatever it takes, and sit on your couch and press Play. Maybe you’ll love it! Maybe it’ll be everything you hoped for! And maybe it won’t be. Actually, probably it won’t be. Maybe what you sound like to yourself while you are playing is not at all what you sound like on the recording. You can thank the bones in your face for transferring sounds through the inside of your head for that. Maybe you’ll hear every imperfection like an icepick in your skull. Actually, probably you will.

Now, imagine that you are listening to someone you love – your little sister, your grandmother just learning the clarinet. Imagine you are listening to your clarinet idol when they were younger, or when they didn’t know they were being recorded. Would you think they were a bad person because they made those bad sounds on a bad day? Of course not. What would you tell them if they said to you, “I can’t believe I sound that bad?!” Give yourself those words of support and encouragement. Would you forgive them for this performance? Of course you would, because there is nothing to forgive. It is not as if Grandma playing F-natural instead of F# was the sign of a moral failing. You are not a failure when you don’t live up to your expectations, it’s just proof that your ear is good and your compass is true.

Not living up to your ideals is a reason to experiment and do it differently next time. It’s a reason to rejoice that you are human and you are on this lovely journey of reaching higher. There is no amount of “bad” playing that makes you unworthy of belonging in the clarinet world. It is very important for your growth and happiness on this Earth (and for the sanity of everyone who lives with you) to try to frame your dissatisfaction with your playing as unemotionally as you can. If you allow yourself to feel horrible and unworthy because you didn’t live up to Perfection, and you are practicing to avoid feeling bad in this way, you are running a very real risk of getting burned out, resenting the clarinet and everything it has ever meant to you, and quitting altogether. True growth is possible when you keep your dissatisfaction away from your sense of self-worth. It’s like crumbs on the counter — the existence of the crumbs is not an emotional crisis — you just wipe them up until it is clean and looks pretty. More crumbs will appear, and you can wipe those up too.

Ready to level-up your musical stretching? Send your recording to someone who would catch you in a trust fall, or if you’re feeling super brave, post it on social media. (If you’ve already had a public performance that was recorded and then you listened back to it with horror, thank your lucky stars. It can be

liberating if you let it). The fear that others will know you are not in fact Perfect will come true. Yep, they will find out. Surprise! Everyone knows that you are actually human. But you know what else everyone knows? They know you are still a good human. They will forgive you inst

antly for the squeak, the wrong note, the too-soft reed, the ran-out-of-breath spot, the shaky fingers, and they will send silent words of encouragement and love. And now you will likely have a huge fire under your belly to grow, to experiment, and to joyfully find out what works better. And you can let that fire grow as large as it wants to. Get some marshmallows and make a day of it.

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