Every music teacher since the dawn of time has heard this excuse about a million times.
It gets trotted out, usually in an exasperated whining tone, (at least it is when I do it) when a pupil cocks up a piece that they have been working on:
“I don’t understand! I played it perfectly before the lesson.”
The thing is, it’s probably true, and in my own case it really is. In my own practice time, I can play my pieces all the way through. OK, I’m never going to be booked for the Albert Hall or Ronnie Scott’s but nevertheless I manage to get to the end in a vaguely passable fashion.
As soon as I play in front of my Musical Jedi Master , however, all those successful performances fly out the window and stupid mistakes creep in.
It is maddening.
It is frustrating.
I blame the monkey.
The monkey that lives in my head and who just will not shut up.
Now, to play music successfully, you need to be able to concentrate and focus. All those little dots don’t read themselves, you know. Once you've taken your eye off them, they have a nasty habit of jumping about the page in gay abandon and you'll never get them to behave after that.
What you absolutely do not need is someone who, just as you’re getting to the tricky bit, will demand in a loud voice “Ooh, are we having faggots* for dinner?” or, just as you’re approaching that nice easy bit that will take you coasting nicely to the end, will suddenly screech excitedly “You’ve got to the end! And with no mistakes!“, which of course results in an instant musical train wreck.
I hate him.
He knows just the very best moment to pitch in for maximum annoyance. He knows, for example, that distracting me when I’m by myself is hardly worth the effort (although he does have a go occasionally - usually when I'm trying to get to sleep). No, he knows the real money’s in causing maximum embarrassment by popping up when I’m trying to impress somebody like my teacher or an audience.
I have tried meditation. You know how that’s supposed to go. You’re supposed to clear your mind of all thoughts and just concentrate on your own breathing or belly button or whatever.
I generally get to about five seconds before it’s “Hi, how’s it going? Gosh it’s really quiet in here. Oh, I’m sorry! Were you in the middle of something? “
I’ve tried cutting out caffeine to absolutely no avail. He stays the same and I just get cranky.
I’ve tried alcohol but, based on empirical observation, it would need enough of it to knock over a rhino before there would be any noticeable effect, and the resultant loss of control over limbs (and possibly over bodily functions as well), would kind of defeat the object.
There are times, though, when his yammerings have lesseffect. For example, he’s only ever once managed to sabotage a singing performance of mine to any degree, and that was over twenty years ago.
He only spoils a guitar performance if I'm trying to record it and want it note-perfect.
His doesn’t bother me much when I’m making a speech at Toastmasters – especially if it’s an impromptu one. In point of fact, in the latter case, his quicksilver flitting from thought to thought at the speed of light can actually be a help.
So what’s the difference?
It must be a confidence thing. I believe I’m good at singing. I believe I’ve good at speech-making.
If only I could make myself believe I was as good at saxophone and piano.
Self-confidence is the monkey’s Kryptonite.
Anybody out there got any idea how I can get more Kryptonite? Failing that, does anybody know of ways to cage/silence the monkey?
*Faggots: a kind of meat pattie, usually served in a rich savoury gravy. Not the kind you were thinking about.