Friday, April 20, 2018

View from the pit: Self-care

One of my former students became a civil engineer. She told me there was one rule of engineering: the bridge may not fail. As musicians, we have a similar rule: the performance may not fail. We do whatever we can to make sure the performance is a success, and sometimes we lose ourselves in the process.

A few reminders about self-care:
  • Create a performance set-up that is as healthy as possible. Do what you can in regard to seating, lights, space for movement, comfortable clothing, whatever you can control that will help you to be more at ease.
  • Stay hydrated. Playing for several hours requires significant muscular action, and your body will need water. 
  • Practice with awareness. Notice when a lack of trust causes muscle tension.
  • Practice to problem-solve. If you are playing on short notice, don't waste time on the easy parts. Score study and mental practice can also be helpful.
  • Communicate with other pit members and the conductor. When in doubt, ask!
  • Take advantage of breaks. It may be better to walk around and shake out your arms and legs than to spend the whole break practicing that hard spot. Break time is also an opportunity to get some protein in your system.
  • Get adequate sleep. Seriously.
  • Put mistakes in perspective. Accept that they will happen because you are not a machine.
  • Last, but not least, breathe.

In retrospect, this last minute call turned out to be an opportunity to re-evaluate the elements of pit-playing. And I did have some fun! If you have a student performing in a pit for the first time, you may find it helpful to share my ideas. If you are an experienced pit player who would like to add more helpful hints or share some amusing anecdotes, please do so.

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