Solo and Orchestral Trumpeter and Educator

Thoughts on music, trumpet playing, and education from Eric M. Berlin, Professor of Trumpet at the University of Massachusetts and Principal Trumpet of the Albany Symphony and Boston Philharmonic Orchestras.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Just Do It

This is a short post today inspired by a Huffington Post article that really infuriated me. It talked about"choking" under pressure, particularly in sports. The crux of the article is this:
Whether you choke under pressure might have more to do with your motivation: specifically, to what extent that you are driven by a desire to win or by a desire to avoid losing. If you're very loss-averse -- meaning that you hate losing more than you love winning -- your chances of choking will be lower. But for those who value the rush of winning over the pain of losing, the likelihood of choking is often higher.
What this entire article fails to acknowledge is that there is a third option. In addition to "loving winning" or "hating losing", the motivation that most successful athletes embrace is one that minimizes thought of outcomes and keeps them focussed on the task at hand. 

Athletes at peak performance level call this state of focus being "in the zone".  For a shortstop to make a spectacular catch does not allow time for thoughts of winning or losing. An incredible putt from 50 feet over undulating greens at the Masters is a result of visualizing the path the ball will take, not an imagined final score. 

As musicians, we are high level athletes using incredibly fine muscle control to express ourselves through our voice or instrument. Whether we perform in a concert or in an audition, I make the clearest association with the game of golf because we have nobody playing defense! Like a golfer, the challenge of our job is to stay out of our own way.  Thoughts of winning/losing or missing/hitting notes are defensive players of our own making. 

What would Nike's corporate ledger look like with this slogan?

I am very loss averse

Any time that we perform, our best course of action is to control those variables which are in our control and focus on communicating clearly. Winning or losing an audition is NOT in our control, but presenting the best performance we can muster in that moment IS in our control. My beloved mentor Charles Schlueter ingrained in his students that the power is in "staying in the present". Notes missed in the past cannot be sucked back in and you can't do anything about the high C at the end until the moment arrives. Worry about either undermines your ability to create the most beautiful sound NOW. 

I often quote the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr when talking about auditions. 

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can;and wisdom to know the difference.
Seek to understand that difference. Oiling your valves, bringing your mutes, and diligent preparation are variables in your control. We cannot control outcomes, but we have the best chance of success with our motivation being the courageous third option of staying focussed on the present and JUST DO IT.