It’s only the first time once

Last year, I went to a chamber music workshop and it changed my life.  I had the kind of honest-to-goodness, light-bulb-over-the-head, tomorrow-is-a-new-day experience you hear about on Oprah.  I came back using words like “transcendent”, “revelatory” and “epiphanic.”  I’m not even sure epiphanic is a word, but I used it with great conviction, so no one called me on it.

For the entirety of the workshop, all I wanted to do was play music.  Between rehearsal, sight-reading, practicing and talking with other musicians, I don’t think I slept but for a few hours–even then I had headphones on, learning by osmosis.  At the recital that caps off the weekend, I looked at the members of my quintet and thought “remember this moment.” Afterwards, I couldn’t stop thanking my coaches for showing me the light. I’m surprised they didn’t take out a restraining order.  I can be sort of intense.

So when they announced this year’s workshop, I had my application and check in before the day was out.

I just got back.  It was a great experience.  Not earth shattering, or axis shifting.  Instructive, confidence building, fun, yes, but the heavens didn’t open up and the angels didn’t sing.

Last year, I was new to the workshop–in fact, new to playing chamber music.  I was more than a little intimidated. Unlike orchestral playing, in chamber music you’re very exposed.

To prepare, I signed on to study with a violinist I admired.  It was instrumental (no pun intended) in getting me ready to go, but it also illuminated just how much my technique was lacking. But there was more to it than that.  Not only was I insecure about my musicianship, I was insecure about a lot of elements of my life.  I was ripe for an epiphany–or a nervous breakdown.

Since then, I’ve come a long way.  The grasshopper is still studying with the master, and I’ve logged many hours with a bow in my right hand.  I’ve played in a few ensembles, both as the lead and as the wing man.  I have a clear vision of my place in the musical world, and what I’d like to accomplish. I’ve also cleared up some of the issues that clouded the rest of my life.  I entered the workshop at a very different place compared to last year.

On Saturday, the evening before the recital, rather than staying up all night sight-reading and practicing, I shared a few bottles of wine with a rowdy table of storytellers, capped it off with a quiet conversation with friends, and went to bed at a decent hour.

I woke up the next day looking forward to the concert.  No jitters.  No anxiety.  I wasn’t let down, but it was just so …. different from the last time around.

My quintet rehearsed one last time, and we bickered about tempo, and who wasn’t coming in where they were supposed to be.  I looked around the circle at their faces, these really wonderful people I shared this experience with, just as I had before.  And I thought, “remember this moment.”  And the light bulb went on.

Last time everything was so new.  It was all about me.  My abilities, my performance, my experience.  This time, it was about my ensemble.  About us.  How we related to each other.  How we settled conflict.  How we worked together.  It wasn’t earth shattering, but it was really, really great.  I realized that it was the perfect bookend for the year, the culmination of everything that last year’s workshop set in motion.

It was a capital-M moment masquerading as a lower-case-m moment.  I could never repeat the experience of last year–it’s only the first time once.  Closing the circle was the best way to set the stage for the next leg of the journey–maybe that will begin at the next workshop.  I already know I’ll be back.  I accidentally left two concert stands behind in our practice space.  The workshop director told me she’d hold them for me until next year, so I haven’t scared them off yet.

Have you had capital-M moments you might have overlooked?

p.s. For those of you still wondering, my son’s bathroom door is still closed.  The wasp lives on.

Words by J.B. Everett

Photograph by Kenneth McFarland

One comment on “It’s only the first time once

  1. TheOthers1 says:

    I don’t think about that enough, capital M moments (as you’ve called it). Sometimes I miss the subtle stuff because I’m too busy looking for big things. I also move kind of slowly when it comes to understanding things or putting things into motion so it takes me a long time to figure stuff out. I’m glad you had a great time though. 🙂

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