It can be done. (Photo by Paul Sableman)
I’m not a fan of sports metaphors, so you’ll have to excuse this extremely obvious comparison. But I started running recently and spent the weekend seriously contemplating the concept of the Marathon. And during that contemplation, I was surprised to find myself simultaneously reflecting on my experience preparing for my first recital years ago.
After crossing the finish line at the Scarecrow Scamper 5K this Saturday, I was surprised to feel like I could keep running; I have reached some level of endurance that I’ve never experienced in my life. As I wandered over to the water table to grab a drink and a complimentary apple, I ran into a friend who’d also run the 5K. “You should run with us!” she said, referring to “us” as a group of women who meet at ungodly hours of the morning with the goal of running an actual 26.2 in the spring.
This led to a conversation about the Marathon concept itself. I asked her if she’d done one before and what it felt like. I started doing a mental inventory of friends and acquaintances of mine who have completely the feat. And then I started thinking, well, if so-and-so can do it, could I? If 60-year-olds can do it, could I? If the average Joe can do it, could I?
Then I started feeling a sense of dread. If I possibly could do it—if my body were really strong enough and capable of developing the strength and endurance necessary—does it mean that I should do it? I was feeling a very specific sense of fear that I’ve felt before: the fear of one’s own potential.
Recognizing one’s potential is a precursor to taking action. Recognizing potential leads to developing a sense of confidence, courage, and faith that you can accomplish something you have never done before.
“Well, think about it, and if you want to, come join us on Tuesday morning. I’ll send you the schedule. And there’s no pressure to do the marathon—you could just train with us and see how you feel.”
I got an email with the following schedule:
I remember drawing up a similar schedule when preparing for my first recital. It had a countdown of weeks to the final performance, lessons with my private teacher and accompanist booked on the calendar, a breakdown of what to practice on certain days, and a smaller breakdown of how many hours or minutes to spend on each piece during each of those practice sessions. I knew that without that steady, regular practice, I’d likely crash and burn on performance day. NOTHING can replace a consistent effort when it comes to preparing for a performance, especially when the music is hard and the music is new.
Music takes time to learn. You get to know the notes on the page, the bowings, the fingerings. You start slowly developing muscle memory as your fingers and arms internally program patterns, shifts, and connections. As a bass player, I know that playing my instrument actually requires substantial muscle strength. If I haven’t played in a while my hand and thumb muscles cramp up. My shoulders ache. My back is sore. My triceps feel the weight of the bow. It’s amazing how even exercising outside of playing the bass can help my playing. Yoga does wonders for my back and shoulders, both of which support my form when I play my instrument.
This morning I actually went to run for the first time with the “Marathon Moms,” as I’ll refer to them. I was both encouraged and discouraged. Encouraged that I ran another 5K in distance feeling like I could keep running when I got home, but discouraged by my slow speed and the fact that I’d never run more than 4 miles—how could I do 26.2?
I’m not sure. But I’ll keep training and we’ll just see what happens.
I think that last sentiment is an attitude that many musicians also feel. Like, “Yes, I can play, and I can play pretty well. I’ll keep practicing and keep playing. Maybe someday I’ll play a real formal recital—maybe someday. But for now I’ll learn a few pieces and we’ll see what happens.”
We’ll see what happens. What does that even mean? Who sees what happens? You? The people around you?
I have an opinion—and I’d love your thoughts on this—but I feel that musicians have some obligation to perform for other people. Practice done in secret is great; there are definitely significant benefits to any individual involvement in music. It’s good for the brain, it can be relaxing, it’s an enjoyable experience. What do you think? At what point should (or is “should” the wrong word here?) a musician take their playing ability out of the practice room and into the performance sphere? Is it selfish to keep your talent and musical abilities to yourself?
I’m not really sure.
When I chatted with my husband about the idea of training for the Marathon, he made an interesting comment. “You’d have to be obsessed,” he said. “People who do marathons are kind of obsessive.
“I don’t think so,” I replied. “Like, I play the bass, but I’m not necessarily obsessed with the bass. I did a recital and, yeah, it required a lot of diligent practice, but I wouldn’t say I was obsessed with the idea.” He gave made a face that said, “Okay, I can see that.”
“But,” I said, “I do know a lot of bass players who are TOTALLY obsessed—like all they do is think about the bass and play the bass and talk about the bass and live to practice. But you don’t have to be obsessed like that to give a recital.”
“But if you trained for an actual marathon, it would take a lot of time. Like, it’d be a pretty big time commitment.”
And he’s absolutely right. Not just time to run, but time to think about it. Time to mentally be absorbed by the challenge.
So there you have it. There are so many similarities between the Recital and the Marathon. Both require
- a plan of attack
- preparation that begins far in advance
- a scheduled race/performance day
- dedication to complete the task
- TIME to develop strength, endurance, and capability
- Constantly renewed motivation to pull your instrument out of the case/running shoes out of the closet
- [ideally] a huge group of fans to cheer you on!
It’s frightening to face your own potential. But if you never face it, never try, you’ll never know. You may be left with regrets. You may be left saying, “I could have done that,” because you never did it. You never opened the door to that possibility. You look back at that door and wonder what was behind it and if it’s still there.
So do you want it enough? Do you want it enough to [note obligatory Nike reference]
JUST DO IT