For as long as I can remember, I have loved everything about the orchestral experience. As an audience member I am always in awe at the power a full ensemble has to portray all ranges of colors, textures, emotions and pictures. When I am part of the ensemble, the experience is even more exciting, as I am able to work as a team with all of the other orchestra members in connecting and co-creating one unique experience with the listeners. With the right moment, the players, the music and the audience become one large entity, and all of the worries, stress, thoughts and struggles of the modern day society is lost. There is no “I” but rather it is about the connection and unity of all. For one moment the future and past don’t matter, and there is no agenda or goal, but to enjoy the process of creating, being present in this moment now.
This transcendent experience that I am describing is what psychologists call “Flow” and is what allows us to be completely satisfied and happy as well as productive without trying, (Baltzell, Cote, 2016). It is in my opinion our true nature and how we are meant to really function, but are so often distracted away from. “Flow” is most commonly found in the creative arts or sports, but can be experienced in any situation if it is understood.
One of the main criteria for flow is that there needs to be a proper balance between challenge of the activity and skill level (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975.) Having high levels of motivation, the right level of energy, clear intentions and being focused on the experience itself rather then on the outcome, are all other precursors to induce the flow state (Baltzell, Cote, 2016). Further, being mindful and willing to make moment-to-moment adjustments as well as being aware and noticing new novelties while engaging in the activity are the final conditions in order to enter flow (Baltzell, Cole, 2016).
Once we understand the formula for flow, we can practice consistently getting there, keeping in mind these criteria as guidelines. In my life, I am practicing this process throughout my training as a cellist during practice and performances in lessons, studio class, recitals and in auditions. Each time I come to the cello I try to have a clear intention of what I am about to do. In the practice room, I deliberately plan which skills I want to work on, what repertoire I will practice, and how much time to spend on each piece or skill. If it is in a performance, I set an intention of what my vision is for both me as the player, as well as what I would like my audience to experience.
Secondly, I practice noticing and staying aware of what my true purpose is. The less I am focused on playing “perfectly”, where my short-comings are, or what I want to achieve, and the more I am concentrating on the big picture, my satisfaction and ability to enjoy the process of learning and creating increase, allowing me to perform better without even trying. This focus on the “journey, not the destination” is what allows me to get lost in the music, sometimes not even noticing an entire day or performance has passed. As I do this, I attempt to observe new novelties that may arise in each piece and exercise, making the most repetitive or mundane experiences brand new each time. The further I understand and practice this process, the more I trust that the orchestral career I dream about is just around the corner.
Baltzell, A. L. (Ed.) (2016) A Cambridge Companion to Mindfulness and Performance. Current Perspectives in Social and Behavioral Sciences. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. Baltzell, A, Cote, T., 2016, ch. 15.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1975). Beyond boredom and anxiety. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA.