I have played a few gigs recently that have brought to my attention my ability and the ability of others, to go from a haphazard rehearsal situation to a concert performance only a few minutes later and ‘pull it out the bag’.
Sometimes it’s just you that feels like you sound bad at the rehearsal or are underprepared and sometimes it can be a collective atmosphere of uncertainty amongst the band that makes you question what on earth the actual gig is going to be like
I was in one of those situations recently where I felt that it was me that sounded bad in the pre-gig rehearsal a couple of hours before show time. It’s worth noting that this was a jazz gig where a lot of improvising was going on and I was playing with some wonderfully capable and virtuosic musicians.
I don’t think I sounded terrible but I definitely wasn’t playing great. I was desperately tired from an overnight flight and was just a little ‘off’. The drums felt foreign, the stage sound was weird and I lost the ability, it seemed, to count to four meaning I missed a cue on one of the charts; a cue we just rehearsed 30 seconds earlier and I played it fine. You get the idea.
But, typically, us musicians and creative types have the tendency to over think and over exaggerate negative thoughts and in a flash you sometimes find yourself immediately questioning everything. Why am I in this place on the other side of the country, playing this gig, hitting things with sticks? I hit things with sticks for a living. This is mental. I haven’t been practicing enough; this is why I sound like this. I think I’m going to give up music; I don’t need this pressure anymore. What else could I do? Maybe I could go back to school and re-train. Maybe I could start a business. Shit, maybe working at Ralph’s is better than this. I’m definitely giving up.
Then show time comes around an hour or so later. I walk on stage and as the first notes are played it’s as if a beam of light comes bursting through the ceiling: that ‘hallelujah’ moment. Now the drums felt good, the stage sound seemed better and I was playing completely differently. I was quickly reminded that this is the best feeling in the world and I never want to do anything else.
I’m sure LOADS of musicians are familiar with the seesaw life that we lead toing and froing from despair to elation, but my point in this blog is how we often manage to somehow ‘save the day’, play the charts without mistakes and sound good. Most of the music I hadn’t played in years and the charts were four pages long, minimum, and the rehearsal was a blur; there was so much information in the music and we had only topped and tailed the songs in a hurry. But somehow we all came together and created some great music. We were all listening to each other, having fun and playing great. Night and day compared to only a few minutes earlier.
It just occurred to me that it’s funny how this often happens. I suppose it’s perhaps nothing more than simply drawing on years of experience and playing our instruments every single day that gives us that skill. But what is it about ‘show time’ that suddenly makes all your senses kick into gear, sometimes to the very extreme? It was only a few minutes ago on the same stage and on the same drum set that I wanted the stage to swallow me up.
Hopefully next time I can trust that it’ll probably be OK once we hit the stage. And, of course, practice more!