by Rena Urso
As we wrap 2020 up in a festive bow and set it aside to make room for a new and very welcomed year ahead, let’s take a moment to reflect upon all that we have for which to be thankful.
We’ve all experienced loss this year; artistically, emotionally, economically, and of course, literally, with the loss of loved ones. And yet, despite these bittersweet times, there remains so much for which to be grateful.
Preparing this year’s cozy thanksgiving meal was the perfect time for me to quietly reflect. I found creative ways to include loved ones who are no longer with me, as well as those I was missing across the miles. It began with the thoughtful process of sifting through favorite cookbooks and my weathered recipe book, which is filled with decades of treasured hand-written recipes. Next came choosing the mixing bowl I hand-painted with a friend years ago, in which my husband John and I would use to mix tasty treats to hand-deliver to elderly family members and friends in the neighborhood. The assortment of carefully selected stemware, serving bowls, and plates either received as gifts over the years or once loved by family members who are no longer with us added to the picture. Dressing the table with the festive gold candlesticks I received one Christmas from my late sister Marilyn, the tiny colorful hand-blown glass made by an artist friend of ours that would be filled with cranberry sauce, and the whimsical trivet that spells LOVE that we received as a wedding gift from a good friend. As we ate, we admired these special reminders of people we love, who were all right there alongside me in the kitchen, and at the table as we enjoyed our feast.
Continuing to dig deeper and appreciate the greater joy in the process. There are no deadlines to meet or clocks to watch, so I could enjoy the baking and cooking, relishing extra time on my yoga mat, walking without a destination with John and our dogs, or simply luxuriating in open-ended practice time. I encourage you to give yourself the gift of slowing down and stopping to smell the cookies baking in the oven (both literally and figuratively).
In the before times, complaining about work was sadly somewhat commonplace for we musicians; the commute, the pay, the conductor, the repertoire, the hall, the personnel, the balance of workload and practice time. A friend of mine used to say, “on a scale of 1-10, every gig, no matter how good, is rarely more than a 7.” I disagree. We are so fortunate to be able to do what we love to do, but also to have the opportunity to empower and inspire our students. My hope is that we can let go of the unhelpful mindset of complaint. It is wasted energy, which could be put toward something far more meaningful; and, we should be grateful! The past nine months have given us the gift of time; time to reflect and to creatively make the best of things in all the ways we can.
Rather than focusing on all that we’ve lost, let’s strive for more curiosity and inspiration in our practice rooms. Revisit repertoire you haven’t played in ages with a renewed sense of imagination. We’ve lived a lot of life since the last time we played some of these pieces; and in that time, hopefully, we’ve become wiser and more empathetic artists. So, allow yourself to go back in time to when you were first introduced to Taffanel and Gaubert’s technical studies, a favorite opus of Andersen études, or lessons with various teachers for whom you played your Mozart concerti, Bach sonatas, and French solo works. Perhaps you’ll even remember exactly where you were and the people with whom you shared your deepest post-lesson/recital/performance/audition thoughts.
As I opened my case to begin today’s practice, I reflected back to when I chose my first Muramatsu flute, while an undergraduate at Wayne State University. I still have and love that instrument! I also take great pleasure in the path that led me to the beautiful 9k that I play today – the flute I originally wanted all those years ago that finally became a reality. My first phone conversation with Eldred Spell, excitedly placing the order for one of his custom piccolo head joints remains a cherished memory, because it reminds me of the rich lineage that underscores not only why I play the instruments I do, but the backstories of who and what drew me to them in the first place.
Further, it begs the questions:
- What continues to draw me/you to our favorite repertoire; what pieces feed our collective souls?
- For you, why and how do you choose your daily warm-up routines and technical studies, and who first introduced you to them? What are your backstories?
Apply this same rubric to deepen your awareness and curiosity about your habitual Use of Self. Connect the dots back to the people who inspired you and helped to shape the artist you’ve become. You might even reach out to say thank you and share these memorable stories with them. This introspection will help to cultivate more gratitude in your practice rooms and may help you uncover something brand new. We may not be able to gather on the stage and perform or see our friends and loved ones in person, but our recollections of these influential people and the rich memories that make up our personal histories are right there at our fingertips. Indulge yourself.
Wishing you all a safe and peaceful holiday season.
Be well, friends, and happy practicing!
Rena Urso is a member of the faculties at California State University Long Beach and California State University Stanislaus, and a Course Coordinator for California State University Summer Arts – home to her popular biennial summer flute course, The Complete 21st Century Flutist at CSU Summer Arts. As a Licensed Body Mapping Educator, she presents Body Mapping workshops and masterclasses all over the world. An active freelance musician in the San Francisco Bay Area, she is a member of the Oakland Symphony, the Oregon Coast Music Festival Orchestra, and Alcyone Ensemble. Additionally, she is a certified yoga and meditation instructor and member of the NFA Performance Health Committee. Rena lives in the Chicago area with her husband John and their dogs Lillie and Po. For more information about Rena and Body Mapping tips, please visit www.renaurso.com.