I've always thought of myself as someone who thrived under pressure. I test well, I don't suffer from forgetfulness when I need to remember a formula or equation, I am reliably able to hit the right notes during a performance, even if i do not hit them in rehearsal. I am comfortable in front of crowds of people. Nervousness sharpens my senses, rather than scattering them.
That is, I thought all of this until last Saturday.
I have a very short solo at the end of the marching band show this year. I get four beats, 1.58 seconds, ten notes, and one chance. I have yet to play it correctly at a competition. It didn't bother me the first time, because a key stuck and a spring was out of place and it wasn't my fault. It didn't bother me the second time because I hadn't played the instrument for three days before hand and hadn't had time to warm up. It bothered me last Saturday. I played it correctly what felt like a thousand times that morning in rehearsal. I was so confident that I would play it correctly when it mattered. Then, while performing, I could feel the end of the show racing toward me at breakneck speed, eerily tangible and utterly imminent. And I screwed it up. Again.
I was near tears as we walked off the field. I didn't understand. My director keeps telling me all I have to do is calm down, and I wish it was that simple. Pressure has never been a hindrance to me before. Now it is. It's disconcerting. I wish it was something more concrete that I could fix. Press this key instead of that key. Tongue this note and not that one. Those things I know I could correct, no problem. But something as uncomplicated as "calm down" is like a Rubik's Cube. And I'm not good at Rubik's Cubes.
It seems I can't reason my way out of this one. If I could identify a switch in my brain that causes me to freak out and flip it, I could play the solo perfectly every time. Unfortunately, brains don't generally work that way. If I could make myself believe that each competition mattered less, or that if I hadn't screwed it up we wouldn't have lost by four tenths of a point, or that the solo wasn't as hard, I could pull it off flawlessly. None of that has worked. Usually apathy will impair a performance, but in this case my emotional attachment is definitely my weakness. Knowing that doesn't change it. I get another chance this Saturday. Fingers crossed, toes crossed, eyes crossed, I hope I get it right this time.