Some things in life occur so predictably and reliably. The rising and setting of the sun, the return of spring after a long winter, aging from young to old, gravity, entropy, the buttered side of the bread landing face down when dropped. We can depend on these events as facts of life that will always be. In my life, there’s one other thing I can always count on: when a new piece of music with an attached deadline appears on my music stand, I will always feel certain this is the time I will not finish learning it by that dreaded, looming due date.
It never fails. This fact of life for me is as certain as the day is long. I open the score and listen to a recording (if one exists; we’ll save the terror of learning an unrecorded piece for another time). I think to myself, “OK. Not too bad. I can do this.” I make a practice deadline schedule. Pages 1-10 today, 10-20 tomorrow, etc., etc. Then I begin plunking and sight-reading notes on page 1. “Come quickly, oh Lord.” I whisper softly as I immediately begin revising aforementioned schedule. Pages 1-3 will be the more likely outcome for today.
By the evening of this day, I am in full-on panic/rethinking my life choices mode. I obsessively further streamline my practice schedule and gear up for note-learning session number . . . who knows? I’ve lost count at this point. I’m just trying to get page 3 firmly under my belt before this ever-loving day is finished. Bedtime is a series of distraught sighs and murmurings directed towards my main handler, my husband, who assures me I will learn this score just like I learn every other score: one note at a time. That old saying about eating elephants creeps into my head, and I silently acquiesce to its truth while simultaneously cursing whoever came up with that tired old phrase. I’m not the kind of person who enjoys being reasoned out of a good, anxiety-induced imposter syndrome ‘sesh.’
By the end of week one with this new music, I’m settling into a comfortable coexistence with my panic and my belief that I will finish on time. The initial dread and imposter syndrome wears off just enough for me to faintly hear my primary, professional musician mantra echoing from beyond the note-learning doldrums: “Trust the process.”
Despite my persistent disbelief at the beginning stages of preparing a new musical project, the process really does work. It has never failed me. Learn one note at a time, at a pace necessary to prepare this score by the first rehearsal. As I continue to grow into my professional singing career, I’m learning to repeat this mantra to myself sooner rather than later when learning a new piece. I have more evidence now that the process works and, thus, more faith in it. (Lest you come to any misguided conclusions regarding the frequency of my end-of-day meltdowns, rest assured, they still regularly occur, despite any improvements made.)
I’ve been thinking a lot about this trustworthy, time-proven mantra in light of the extraordinary circumstances we all find ourselves in these days. How do we “trust the process” in this situation? Nobody even knows what “the process” is, should be, or might look like. Here’s the only conclusion I’ve been able to come to: The process to trust in this situation is the proven resiliency and creativity of human beings that inevitably surfaces when the need arises. Our civilization has not lasted for thousands of years only to be undone by this strange and mess-of-a-drunken-fool year that is 2020. Artist, musician, and small business friends, I truly believe we are going to rise up in the middle of this great disaster and produce previously untold feats of brilliance because that’s the cyclical process of resilience and creativity all of us have been born into.
Right now, many of us are still in that initial phase of terror and panic, as is only natural. Pretty soon, we are going to find our rhythm as we continue to live with each passing moment, biting off just as much as we can chew for that day until we have eaten that whole dang elephant. Once we hit our stride and begin to trust the process of our own resiliency and creativity again, we’re going to do what all good humans do in the face of hardship: innovate what doesn’t yet exist and improve what remains.