When I was a child, I had to endure a great sadness.  While I have since adequately dealt with it, there are times when the memory or the consequences of this sadness completely overwhelms me.   It feels like an unbearable weight, something I’m just not going to be able to carry. 

 

When I get stuck over handling my emotions, I like to think about the body.  Sometimes figuring out how to deal with a problem of the body can teach me how to deal with problems of the mind or the heart.  On the body, the unbearable weight is the head. 

I have no more right to write a remembrance of Ron Dicenzo than anyone else who knew him.  I only venture to do so because he shared many stories of his life with me that I would prefer were kept alive, and because I consider him a great friend.  When I attended Oberlin in the late 80’s it was possible to be great friends with a professor without invoking any electronic demons like Facebook, if you had the courage and the will.

When I was a young teenager it became necessary for me to numb myself in order to survive and move ahead.  I had to block a certain amount of emotional and social input so that I could manage emotionally and socially.  Without realizing it, I also closed myself to physical sensation as well.

 

Many years later when I’d gotten well into the process of untying my knots and emerging as a social / emotional person, I discovered a stumbling block.  I was finding physical sensation a difficult thing to process.  What helped me through this block was realizing that sensation is not pain.

As I write this, I am a few hours away from participating in an afternoon recital with some of my colleagues.  Many of my students will be there with their parents.  Although I am only playing a short movement from a Mozart sonata, I am feeling the pressure.

 

Last Friday, though, something happened to change the balance of the equation.  I was opening a folding door and the third and fourth fingers on my left hand got caught.  The third finger was jammed and swelled up so that it wouldn’t really bend.

 

Over the course of the day, the injury retreated enough that I was confident I could still play the recital.  However, it was uncomfortable and I was no longer certain I would play well.  This setback turned out to have an interesting benefit.

 

I think people fall into two camps when it comes to mistakes, or are of two minds.  On one side, we seem to understand that mistakes are necessary in order to learn.  On the other, we seem to agree that mistakes are something to be avoided.

 

If I accept both ideas, then I don’t know whether to welcome mistakes or dread them.  I don’t think its enough to simply accept both statements as valid.  Maybe there’s more to mistakes than meets the eye.

It makes sense that we should try to live our lives as free from stress as possible, right?  Actually, I don’t think so.  Consider the rubber band.

When I was a kid I wasn’t very good at sports.  Even so, if I happened to make a particularly good football catch, for a few minutes everyone around me would treat me as if I was a good player.  Then I’d mess up and miss the next one, and the respect and opportunities to play vanished.

 

I didn’t miss because of my ability.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t catch the football, it was that the pressure to repeat my success made it more difficult.  I was carrying the expectations of my success and it was too distracting.

I want to be great.  I really do.  Like Beethoven-great.

 

The older I get, the more I realize that’s not up to me.  

Many times my students will come to me in a lesson with a piece of music they think they are ready to perform.  They get very upset when it falls apart.  “I was able to play it perfectly at home,” they say.

 

I have the same problem: inaccurate self-assessment in the practice room.  That’s when I pull out my tried and true method for making sure something is going to go well in performance:  The “three times” game.

My band just played a gig at a high-profile room in Atlanta.  I was very excited about the exposure.  But me being me, I also started to freak out a little.

 

I wanted to look good, both as a band and as an individual.  I wanted people to look at me and like what they saw.  At the same time, I did not want to lose myself in an ego trip.

 

What is the difference, I wondered, between sharing and showing off?

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