For the past eight weeks, I've spent Tuesday evenings playing the cello with a small group of aspiring cellists. Most of our class time is devoted to playing together, which, in theory, is a wonderful experience, unless you are a beginning cellist with stage fright. In that case, playing the cello with others is like driving in a blizzard on a highway in the dark, with an injured toddler in the back seat.
On the road, you must keep track of speed, your passengers, pedestrians, other motorists, bicyclists, etc. With a cello, you have to be mindful not only of the height, size and angle of your cello, but also the angle, pressure and position of your left hand on the fingerboard, and the angle, pressure and position of your right hand on the bow. And then, of course, you have to focus on the musical notes and other directives on the page in front of you: flat, sharp, or natural, up bow or down bow, meter, rhythm, melody, bass line, tone etc. If you don't focus effectively on all of these things simultaneously, your cello will sound less like a cello and more like the chicken on life support that I mentioned in my first post.
Because I don't want my cello to sound like a chicken on life support anymore, I've been practicing the bass line to Pachelbel's Canon, the bass line to Beethoven's Russian Folk Song, Praetorius' Viva La Musica, and a folk song called White Sands and Grey Sands every day. I'm improving on all all of them except Viva La Musica, which is currently the bane of my existence. But no matter how much I improve on my own, I know that as soon as I start playing along with my classmates, I will panic, my bow hold will tighten, my hands will start hurting, I'll lose track of the notes, my cello will start squawking, and because I don't want to distract everyone else, I will stop playing.
In an effort to overcome this anxiety, I am conducting an experiment. After I practice Pachelbel's Canon a few times by myself, I play the bass line along with an actual recording of Pachelbel's Canon. Later today, I will play the other songs mentioned above while simultaneously listening to Bach's Cello Suites. My goal is to encourage myself to keep playing even when I am distracted, and to turn that panicky driving-in-a-blizzard feeling into something less like fear and more like confidence and control.
So far, my experiment is not working very well, and I still get very distracted by the other sounds. But, to play the cello well, I have to learn to relax and be patient with myself, and I also have to learn to perform well with others. As with anything else in life, I can't stop when things are difficult. If I want to get anywhere, I have to take the wheel and keep on going.