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The Practice Process

The Bard Babe



I've come to the realisation that as a musician, I work at my best under pressure. Stress and pressure, time limits and deadlines, they all serve to make my work sharper, better, more organised. Pressure seems to be my main source of motivation. This is rather unfortunate, of course, because being stressed is not a nice state to be in...I hate the word nice...anyway, I find I've come to the stage where without something to work towards and a good solid deadline, I have trouble finding the motivation to practice at all. Over the holidays recently when I had no cello lessons and no performances, no exams or competitions, I could barely find the will to get off my butt and pick up my cello.


And now I've noticed that this need for pressure has bled into the rest of my life. When I'm at my busiest, I work my best. Schoolwork? Give me an insane amount of work, no time to do it in and a solid deadline, then I'll get As left right and centre, give me no time to practice and a bunch of performances and an arm that has decided not to like me playing, then I'll be spending all my spare time going through my pieces and playing as often as I can.


I'm not sure what that says about me, either that I rise to challenges or I'm too lazy to do much unless I can't avoid it. Probably a bit of both.


Either way, I have a cello exam in almost exactly 1 month (not that I have the exact date yet, slack examination board). This exam isn't truly important in terms of my future. It means nothing once you leave Australia. The only practical effects are being allowed to write AMusA (Associate's Diploma of Music) after my name, a few extra rank points on my OP score (the score we leave school and gain entry to university with-also means nothing outside of Australia) and being legally allowed to charge my cello students a silly amount of money for a half hour lesson.


However, I do officially get a diploma for this exam, and all the prestige that comes with getting it (and the robe and the hat for the ceremony if you pass and get the diploma). If you have your AMus, you're pretty much at the peak of where you can go at my age, unless you want to go for your Licentiate (LMus) but few do and it has little worth. As much as I hate it, classical music is a very competitive world and when you join a new group of instrumentalists, you are judged on which grade of music exams you have passed (they go from Preliminary, then Grades 1 through to 8, followed by CMus (Certificate of Performance), AMus and then LMus if you want it).


As a musician in Australia, if you are working towards a goal, it is usually for your AMus.


Anyway, as some people know, the muscles in my right forearm have suddenly decided not to cooperate with me playing so much. I have exercises from the physio, but as those of you are musicians will know, the thought of over-stressing that muscle and having to stop playing for a time or perhaps even altogether is terrifying for me. It's one of the fears that can bring me to tears almost by thinking about it and having my arm play up now right before my exam, it's really hitting me hard every time I think it's gone away but soon find out it most definitely has not. There is a delicate balance between practicing enough to go through with this exam and not over-stressing that muscle. If it tightens any further it could lead to RSI and various other things, but the only preventative action would be to not play, which for me is never a possibility, especially with an exam one month away.


So, yes, I'm getting slightly stressed for this exam. One of my best friends, a player vastly better than I am, failed her first go on this exam. There are two or three panelists judging you, the fail rate is very high, it's a lot of money to even take this exam I've been preparing for only a few months when the average preparation time for this exam is over a year. That my teacher has put me in for it this early is a great vote of confidence, as she would definitely not have allowed us to waste our money if she didn't think I could pass.


So, I have the pressure aspect. 4 pieces, thorough analysis as well as the theory exam that partners this practical cello exam, a screwed up arm and little over a month to feel absolutely secure with four pieces I have just begun to understand yesterday.


If you are not armed with confidence that can't be dented by a truck when you walk into that exam room, there is no way you will pass.


So, I'm not that confident. Not yet. I think I have found the nature of the pieces I am playing, but it is only now that I'm starting to feel that this AMus Exam is soon, so soon. I know that if I can truly get under the skin of these pieces, I will be able to pass with flying colours, perhaps even get a repeat of the High Distinctions I've received for my last two exams, but with the exam a month away and an arm that is fighting back, I'm starting to worry about whether this time, the pressure will be too much. I haven't yet gotten into the frenzied state of pre-exam madness but I feel that this is the breath before the storm. I'm just beginning to feel the stubborn resolve to succeed and do well, the jittery shudders of nerves and adrenaline, the clarity of mind showing me what I have to do if I want to pass this and move on to the next part of my life, I can see the storm on the horizon, but this time I have no idea whether I will be able to brave it, whether that adrenaline will be able to pull me through to the other side, whether that clarity of mind will stay true or become muddled and confused once the storm hits. That storm has such an impact. I have felt it before, a deep and shattering thing that breaks me down more quickly than anything else, but I have so far always managed to pick myself up again.


I do not want that storm to hit. I hope to be able to stay on my feet this time, but if I haven't before, how can I hope to this time?


Not to sound desperate, but I'm gonna need all the help I can get with this one. :/



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