How about a Concerto?
It’s now been a week since my first big solo performance standing in front of an orchestra. When I was preparing for this, I realized it actually wasn’t my first solo performance with orchestra but it was my first time standing in front of everyone. And for those of you unsure or questioning my language, let me tell you there’s a big difference! I always laughed when concertmasters say that the scariest part of their gig is walking in front of the orchestra and getting everyone ready to tune. It is totally true! Walking out there alone is something else… but then I had to actually perform!
When I was a freshman at NYU, I played Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question with the orchestra – but I was playing backstage into the beautiful acoustics of the echo-y stairwell. I also played a solo with the children’s chorus at NYU but that I was to the side of the group with the pianist because it definitely wasn’t about me! Even when I had my Carnegie Hall solo debut (if you can call it that) – I was playing bugle calls backstage! I did get to run out for a bow at the end which was very surreal. Anyway, so to me, standing in front of this group in my hometown was very different than anything I had done before and a very exciting experience. I can’t wait to share the video of the performance!
I wanted to write a little bit about it – perhaps to show my thought process and also to demystify it a little bit. I actually never really wanted to be a soloist. I was perfectly happy bouncing from gig to gig and freelancing – especially in places like pit orchestras where we weren’t even seen by the audience. Through the process of making my album I played many solo trumpet gigs in various smaller venues, some with electronics and some with a few guest musicians. To me this was perfectly fine and I developed my skills in programming, speaking to the audience, and figuring out what works and what doesn’t. After I made my album, I started focusing a bit more on presenting recitals and masterclasses. I’ve written about some of these experiences performing recitals and giving masterclasses here and here. But even so, being a featured soloist – especially with an orchestra or band – wasn’t something that was on my radar. I actually was a guest on a podcast last year where the interviewer asked about my plans for my solo career. Even hearing the words solo career felt super foreign to me and I remember saying something about how I loved performing for smaller audiences because it was so great to be able to connect with people before and afterwards. I mentioned how the big concert hall often felt constricting and less personal in that sense and that I didn’t see myself being a guest soloist with a large group or something like that. Little did I know!!! It is SO funny honestly to look back on this moment because I was so sure that it would never happen. I remember being so confident in thinking – oh that’s not for me.
So back to the present – For this most recent trip to my hometown, I contacted the music school where I had taken lessons growing up and inquired about the possibility of coming down for a masterclass. The Director of the school said that a masterclass wasn’t really possible but asked if I was interested in playing a concerto with the orchestra. You see where this is going…. Something I never thought I was going to do – yet I immediately said yes, and with only a few months of lead time before the performance.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about freelancing is to say Yes and then figure out how to do it later. I’m sure everyone has stories about that idea. Obviously, it is a big question to ask me to prepare a solo with orchestra and something that I spent many hours working on – both by myself and performing for friends. I wasn’t born ready – nor did I have that piece prepared and ready to go. I had learned “The Hollow Men” in undergrad and probably hadn’t played it since but I always loved the piece so it was easy to dive back into. However, there was a lot more involved in this performance than just preparing the piece – and for those things I was definitely prepared and ready for. These were things like
• time management – balancing preparing big pieces while also teaching and learning music for gigs • chop management – how to practice all of the things and manage the other playing I have to do • the basic discipline of doing something every day – even when I was tired or didn’t feel like it.
So mentally, I wasn’t necessarily “prepared” for a solo career so to speak, but I was 100% ready for the experience based on my general work ethic and openness to new possibilities/next steps in my career.
As a musician and a teacher, personal development is something I am very interested in. Here are some things that I was reminded of when thinking about my experience rising to the occasion to do something I had never thought I would be doing.
In one year from now, you’ll be exactly where you decide to be. – Mel Robbins
This is something that means so much to me because it’s about how we have the control of our career to do what we want to do. Of course not everything is possible but to me it’s about choosing what to work on based on my goals and what is necessary to get there. The idea of choice and daily commitment is also something I got a lot from this amazing book The Slight Edge – where you realize that every day we are faced with many decisions that can actually impact our life tremendously. Simple things like choosing to save money instead of going out to eat or committing to waking up early to get in a good warmup for the day are super important choices that I know I make often.
I titled this blog post “How about a Concerto” not only because it was literally what was said to me but also because it has that great vulnerability and openness to it. The idea of being in the right place at the right time isn’t just for the lucky people who walk in a room and are immediately given a major opportunity. To me it is more about the many hours and years of work that is accomplished behind the scenes before that opportunity was even created – and that the everyday discipline of being prepared but also open is what creates the best possible scenario. And as they say, Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
In about a month I’ll be leaving for Japan for two weeks to play the Torelli piccolo trumpet concerto with orchestra. Fortunately I had a lot more time than I had for the Persichetti piece so I have been able to space out my preparation. I played the piece for a teacher and even set up a reading session with a string quartet to read thru the piece. Recently I went to the conductor’s apartment to drop off my passport for the visa. He gives me the stack of music for the tour and then hands me Leroy Anderson’s “A Trumpeter’s Lullaby” and he’s like another solo! And this wasn’t a “do you want to play another solo” question. It was very much a “here’s another solo that you will be playing on the tour”. As surprising as it was, I honestly didn’t feel worried at all because I knew that my daily routine and practicing habits for past performances have set me up for success in times like these. In a way, my own preparation and ability to balance multiple opportunities made this new solo seem like not a big deal at all – even though it does seem crazy to get an additional solo a month before the tour.
So moving forward – I know I’ll definitely be even more conscious of my practice routine and preparation because anything could happen and I’ll do my best to be flexible and ready as much as I can.