Friday, May 2, 2014

In Concert

At our last class before the concert, I made them a promise:

No matter how calm I look when we’re up there on stage, I will be nervous too. I’ve been doing this almost my whole life, and I still get nervous. But we’ll all be there helping each other, and it’s going to be great.

I did not tell them that I’ve been nervous for months.

My violin students—Violin Project and private students—were invited to play with the local community string orchestra back in January. I looked at the music and said yes, I think we can make that work, knowing it would be a stretch. Knowing this was new territory for all of us. We had time, and we got to work right away. I believed that together we could rise to the occasion.

But I was nervous. Afraid of letting people (my students, their families, the conductor, the orchestra) down. 

One month before the concert, I was quite nervous. We had been working hard, yes. But we had a lot of leaps to make.  The second violin part didn’t always make sense to a group of kids who had always played melody, and the form was more complex than they had ever encountered. This is not such a big deal if you can just follow what’s on the page in front of you, but to a pre-reader it matters. Memorizing something you would probably never hum to yourself is not a simple task.

The third violinists had their part down quickly, but they had to be able to hold their own rhythmically, and again—not easy. Not playing on down beats when everybody else is playing, not being swayed by the four other parts around you but listening to and sticking with your own part: that is sophisticated stuff for a beginner.

The first violinists—they had a lot of notes to learn. And life is busy, and so many important things want to get in the way. I knew they could do it, but I was concerned about their confidence.

The week of the concert, however, things came together. I started to relax. I got excited. I was thankful for how good everything sounded. 

Then the day of the concert: I taught my regular lessons, picked up my kids at their grandparents’ house. We ate half our dinner in the car on the way home. At home with a few minutes’ turn-around time everybody had a job: Oldest, help set the table, Middle, change clothes, Youngest, go back out to the car and bring your backpack and jacket inside.

A few minutes later, crying. Youngest back inside with her hand to her head. Blood. And then she moved her hand away and I yelled, I couldn’t help it, because Oh-God-she’s-really-hurt.

Somehow what felt like one hundred decisions were made in an instant. Call Husband. Call Friend who will be at the concert. Do not let on to Youngest that she needs stitches until you absolutely have to if you want her to stay calm. You do not have to be at the concert. Your students can do this without you. Somehow I got Middle and Oldest to the concert location along with the stack of violins I had brought home with me “to make sure they all make it safely to the concert tonight.” Somehow I drove to Urgent Care answering Youngest’s questions as calmly as I could, even though every few seconds I had to clench the steering wheel hard. The image of her wound, my bleeding hurt child, flashed fresh in my mind over and over. Over and over I glanced at her face—pale, eyes half-shut—in the rearview mirror. Clench. Release. Clench. Release.


Somehow everything worked out.

At Urgent Care: help. The nurse’s eyes looking at me over Youngest’s head after peeking under the gauze, the whole wordless conversation that passed between us. Oh, Honey. Yes. She needs stitches. I knew right away. Oh this girl, she fell really hard. She did, didn’t she? Husband arriving sooner than seemed possible. Youngest, scared and brave, fighting the stitches, still managing to be all at once sassy and funny with the nurses. Her confession to me with deep serious eyes: “I thought maybe I just wouldn’t tell you I fell. But then I thought maybe I should.” Her forehead mended, bandaged. Her arm sore, but not broken.

All the fear and worry that went into this concert—

They moved everything around on the program, and announced from the stage that the orchestra would just keep playing until I arrived to lead my students in their part of the program. Husband took Youngest for ice cream. I arrived at the church where we were playing and my students, a good number of them up past their bedtime at this point, were sitting in their designated seats, listening to the concert. Everybody behaving like angels, as far as I could see. Questioning looks. "She's okay," I told them. "She's going to be okay." We got up and played and I had moved far beyond nervous to shaken and dazed, but even so I could tell how well everything went. 

I am so thankful for all these people—family, students, friends. We were there for each other. I made it there for them. And they were there for me. For Youngest. For each other.

There is this thankfulness, too: I do not understand how Calm can be there in the middle of Fear and Worry, but it was—the whole time. I felt it there the same way I have felt it each time the world threatens to unravel, like the skin that holds my body together when everything beneath it feels shattered. Like that place deep withinat the center, maybe, of my heartthat remains solid and still when everything else is whirling.

And finally there is this, the deepest thankfulness: The day of this concert, there wasn’t room for much more. The day was tightly-scheduled, and there wasn’t room for more than just getting to the concert and playing it, everybody doing their best. I knew it would be great, and enough. And I almost always have a plan like that. The thing is, even when I think it’s a big, grand, wide-open plan that stretches me it ends up being a tight little thing. So when a Hand reaches down and breaks the whole thing wide open, I am shaken, and thankful. Because for a moment I see it all—larger, wider, and more beautiful than I thought it could be. Or than I would have allowed.


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  1. Thank you for telling this story. Sometimes I wonder what's gone on "behind the scenes" of a performance, a day, a face I meet. So often what we see in a brief moment or interaction has come together so brilliantly that we assume the process - the day, the life - was without worry or struggle. But maybe, after all, it is the struggle and work (and scars) which fundamentally shape what we see and hear.

    1. Knowing the story definitely shapes what I see or hear. I've been thinking a lot about the fact that I only know my own story about that night, but everybody who performed has their own story about how they got to that place and what it meant to them. I'm fascinated by that.

  2. Glad Youngest is ok! Also glad for your words---breathtaking, as always.

    "I see it all—larger, wider, and more beautiful than I thought it could be. Or than I would have allowed."

    1. Sarah, thank you! Youngest is doing well, and back to her spirited self.


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