The other bassoonist in my community orchestra is a first year performance major, and plays 2nd (mostly) in the university's symphony. She got sick, and I got asked to sub in until she recovers. My first rehearsal was last night, and wow, what an experience. It's been a long time since I've played in a group that consisted solely of people that were better than me. I've forgotten how far the gulf is between serious high level players (mostly students, but likely many future professionals, I'd guess) and dilettantes like me. The music is hard, the tempos are fast, and everyone is perfectly in tune... except me. Apparently the level of sloppiness that I usually get away with sticks out like a sore thumb here. I'm sightreading, trying to more or less keep up and not get too lost, but the expectation is that every phrase and dynamic be right, not to mention the notes and the pitches. Very much a learning experience.
The first piece up was Verdi, the Force of Destiny. This is the one tune for which I'm subbing on 1st. I'm a little nervous, since I want to make a reasonable impression. The principal player is an extraordinary young bassoonist, national youth orchestra and many awards, and I think I'm most worried about my impression on him. Why I'd care about what someone half my age thinks I don't know, but I do. The conductor says "Let's separate the men from the boys" and begins a few bars before N, where the violins do a light fast tripletey thing, against which low strings and solo bassoon (me!) do a counterpoint. So my first notes here are supposed to be a solo. Separate the men from the boys indeed, although the conductor probably wasn't referring to me. I don't know the music, I don't know if it's in 2 or 4, I don't know the conductor's beat, I don't know where to come in, I can't hear the cellos, and I care too much about the first impression. I'm so nervous I'm shaking, which doesn't help. In addition to missing most of the notes, and probably playing in the wrong spot, my tone was weak and tentative, which somehow seems worse. So not an auspicious start, by any means. First impression has been made. Still, by the end of the evening I felt as though I'd done a few things right, here and there. And apparently I wasn't so terrible that they don't want to see me again - there'll be room for me at the show, in an uncovered 3rd part on one piece even if their real bassoonist recovers in time. So, all in all, very positive.
Still, that experience of playing under pressure, in terror. If I could can that terror, put it in a box so that I could take it out and play under those conditions whenever I wanted, it'd be very useful I think. Not all the time of course, but some of the time, for practice. Next up for me will be this evening, when I rehearse with a pianist who's kindly agreed to help me play Mozart next week. I've been practicing for this by recording run-throughs, one a day, no stops or fixes, just the best I can. Even this makes me pretty nervous, and most have had a complete train wreck somewhere. I think I'm in trouble.