In a gymnasium full of noisy cellists, Julia warmed up for the rehearsal of the strings festival. She was disappointed not to see anyone from her school among the cellos although last year, she was the only cellist from her middle school to participate. There were probably a gaggle of violinists but they warmed up in the cafeteria before coming into the gym. The mellow tones of a couple hundred cellos plus a few dozen basses created a din.I was my usual tense self for these kinds of gatherings. I wait for behavior. I wait for interruption or speaking where no speaking is called for. I wait for some grownup to tell Julia she cannot use the music. One of the rules of the festival is that kids memorize what they play but early on that was impossible for Julia and teachers waived the requirement. I waited, sitting as close as I could to her. Two years ago, her aide sat with her, last year, her teacher made sure that a sympathetic student was next to her. This year, she sat alone and I crossed as many extremities as I could muster, wanting and willing this to be a positive experience for her.
And she made it through. Playing more pieces than she she played for her private or orchestra teachers. She wanted to get to Can Can which was two pieces from the hardest piece. I have no idea how it sounded but her bow was moving pretty close to what all the other bows were moving. She maneuvered the music on the stand and kept playing.
I left with a happy and confident child and I breathed a big sigh of relief.
Now, there is an old theatre adage: bad dress rehearsal, good opening. Perhaps more of a fervent prayer than a saying. No one says anything if the dress rehearsal is good and perhaps sometimes that good dress rehearsal makes everyone a bit too confident.
When I got my program on Saturday, I noticed that the pieces were in a different order than the order of pieces on the practice sheets. I did not give that any thought but as soon as the kids began playing, the problems were all too obvious. Julia wanted the music for each piece in front of her even though she could have played at least half of them from memory. The piece would be announced and she would rifle through her pages. There were only moments between the announcement and the playing and Julia missed first measures and first lines. As she tried to find the music quickly, the sheets fell of the stand. I could see from the bleachers that her frustration was growing.
We were in the grip of the good dress rehearsal curse and there was no way out but through the messiness and confusion.
Julia soldiered on.
In the bleachers, my palms were wet. Powerless. Not the slightest shred of control. I mentally kicked myself for not finding out about the order and making her a well ordered packet. She had done so well the day before, I thought . . . Nope, I just had not thought at all.
When it was over, she told me it was awful and I told her she was incredible. She was. She was flexible enough to deal with finding the music as each piece was announced. She listened and found her. Music as quickly as she could. Both of those huge jumps forward. She did it relatively silently. She did not make inappropriate comments or demand a piece be started again for her.
When I was finished talking about what I saw accomplished, she told me that she figured out what the last piece was–the only one that was left–and was ready to play it from the very beginning. She was proud of that. I was so thankful she was proud. I mean, that was another big deal, that thinking ahead and planning.
And although I would have preferred to engineer a perfect experience during which she could play her cello just like all of the other young musicians, perhaps what she experienced helped her grow just a little it more, stretch her muscles of flexibility and resilience and make the best of a tough situation.
My girl did good.