When I was younger, I had the grand pleasure of performing a cello concerto with my high school orchestra. This is a coveted opportunity that requires over a year of practice just to audition, and then another eight months to practice for the actual performance. Truly one of the greatest learnings of my youth.
As I recall all the nerves I felt prior to walking onto the stage in front of hundreds of people, the entire piece lodged in my memory brain, I distinctly remember two moments.
The first was a very deep breath I took on my own, in the middle of an eerily silent corridor as I awaited the conductor to call me in. I closed my eyes and softly smiled to myself as I gripped the neck of my cello and resisted the urge to run through how I would perform in my head. Before I knew it, I felt first the roar of a applause beneath my feet, and then I heard my name as the cue for - it's show time.
I carefully walked across the stage toward my seat, still breathing deeply. Slowly. As I took my seat, I set up my cello and began the process of tuning. Not so much for my instrument, but more for my inner focus to tune into the moment. At least now I can appreciate it this way. Sitting front and center atop a stage, uncertain of what may unravel, there was actually very little time for, "Oh my gosh, this is happening! Ah!" Instead, the sheer magnitude of being placed in the center of a wildly alive and bubbling scenario (akin to champagne before it pops) makes presence really effortless and past/future feel distant.
It's these vulnerable, crazy uncertain, shaky, sometimes uncomfortable moments that we human beings have the most access to feeling alive!
The next few moments in an orchestral performance are really sweet. There's always complete silence, as the conductor takes a breath and looks out in the orchestra to make eye contact as an offering to embark on a journey together. It doesn't matter how many times we rehearse a piece, nor how perfectly it may go each time, there's still no guarantee of what may unfold in the moment. And that's why a live performance is so invigorating for all of our senses. The rawness is everything.
When the conductor feels he/she has received the attention of the musicians, he/she lifts the baton as a signal to position instruments into place.
In a concerto setting, the conductor looks at the soloist and the soloist gets to pause for as long as she/he wants prior to the very first note.
It was precisely in that moment that I felt the entire room take a long inhale with me, and pause for just... a couple... seconds... to haaa, and now we begin. One of the most tangible experiences of feeling the power of pausing was wrapped up in just a few seconds.
And in music, the pauses continue throughout the piece. Pauses (called 'rests' in classical rhetoric) are literally written into the music because that's how important they are to the whole piece. As musicians, our awareness gets to acknowledge these 'rests,' practice them over and over again, and give them just as much oomph as we would any other beautifully drawn out note.
As Claude Debussy once said, "Music is the space in between notes." Ain't that the truth!
As we look upon our lives, there may not be literal pauses written in stone along our path, but the signs are everywhere! Just feel into the space around you. The hum of a refrigerator. The bright red cardinal that flashes its color as it flies by. The air beneath your nostrils as you breathe out. The way our rising sun paints the sky every single morning, always in a different shade.
The signs to pause are prevalent and perhaps, as a musician, the question I ask is this:
If we intentionally pause more often throughout our day, will our own lives begin to reflect the experience of being placed in the middle of a grand piece of music? Will our lives feel richer and more vibrant? Will we feel more in control of the manmade notion of time?
I laugh as I don't have the proper answer and yet, my belief, my hope, my gut is a sincere yes.