IssuesOctober 2021

Returning to the Stage, Part 1

Fall is here, and with it, the long-awaited return to live performance. Many of us are slowly returning to our concert halls and orchestra families. This is definitely something to celebrate! If you are like me, after more than 18 months, you too are feeling this excitement and enthusiasm, eager to reconnect with special friends and get back to performing again.

This past week, I enjoyed my first live concertgoing experience since December 2019; Nick Tremulis and The Prodigals at City Winery, Chicago. Nick greeted the audience and expressed his joy for being back on stage performing for an audience, saying how what we do as musicians is “essential.” That comment alone nearly moved me to tears; it was an awesome evening and being able to hear and support live music again was indescribable.

For me, the last live performance I was a part of was February 22, 2020. I remember the evening with great clarity; not only was it a deeply moving and memorable concert with my orchestra (Oakland Symphony with Michael Morgan, performing Mahler Symphony #4 with the Violins of Hope) it would be the last time I would perform with our beloved music director, as well as a handful of long-time colleagues and friends who are no longer with us.

How do we navigate back to something that brings us immeasurable joy, which we have done for so long that it has become as second nature as riding a bike, and yet, now feels very different? As I prepare myself for our upcoming season with the Oakland Symphony, here are some things I hope will be helpful for you, too.

  1. Be 100% present. Savor the moment and soak it all in. Take nothing for granted. Appreciate and be grateful for this incredible gift we have as performing artists.
  1. Retrain our focus and expectations. After many months of solo practice time, retraining our focus in rehearsals and concerts may take some time. Be patient with this process. We’ve all been in our own practice spaces with the freedom to take breaks anytime we wish. Even if we’ve participated in virtual projects, it may feel new returning to this kind of work and therefore be an adjustment. I have done a lot of remote recording work over these last many months. This kind of work makes it easy to be perfect because we have the technology at our fingertips to delete and re-record if something doesn’t go as planned. As we return to live work, build a deeper well of patience with yourself and others, adjust your expectations, and don’t worry about being perfect - which takes me back to #1.
  1. Balance and pacing. Achieving balance and learning to pace ourselves with personal practice, rehearsals, and performances is vital. This was all second nature for us all in the before times, but now it may feel like slightly unfamiliar territory. Over the past year and a half, you may have discovered that things were out of balance, so deepening this awareness will be a gift to help you create new and better ways of balancing your workload. 
  1. Finding comfort in our seats – literally and figuratively. Returning back to our seat in the orchestra may feel a little unfamiliar. In our practice spaces at home, many of us have taken the time to create an ideal, distraction-free workspace. Heading back to the concert hall means reacquainting ourselves with our new/old work environment. Notice what feels different and welcome the fresh perspective this offers. 
  1. Integrating new tools. Maybe you are playing on a new or different instrument and although it may feel comfortable in your practice room, finding ease and familiarity when playing with others will be a new experience. The same is true of any other new tools you may have discovered to help you do what you do: a wedge cushion, custom chair, new or better hearing protection, reading glasses, chair blocks, etc. You’ll quickly figure out your new and improved system and before you know it, it’ll all function like a well-oiled machine.
  1. Checking back in with our whole self and refining our body maps. As you take the stage and find your seat, give yourself the time you need to settle back in and take in your space. We have all lived a lot of life since early 2020. Acknowledge that these first moments and days back may feel different. Expand your inclusive awareness to include all of the space around you in a 360-degree way.

The goal is whole-body support and balance, always mindful of the quality of our movements.

Notice how you naturally sit. Are you able to find ease with the balance of your head on top of your spine? Can you allow your facial muscles to soften and your jaw to be free? Are your arms able to float with ease over your ribs? Can you find a place of neutral with your pelvis, balanced over your sit bones? Can you permit the excursion of your ribs to move with ease as you breathe? Can you find grounding with the soles of your feet on the floor? I invite you to revisit my previous columns on The Flute View’s website, especially those relating to Body Mapping; they address specific areas of the body and can be a great help to you as you reacclimate and continue to refine your body maps.

Above all, continue to exhibit kindness and compassion for yourself and others. Be aware of your self-talk and allow yourself ample time to do all the things you need to do in order to adjust back to being on stage. This might be the perfect time to shed any old habits that no longer serve you and open yourself up to all the possibilities that exist as you explore new ways to do what you love to do: perform!

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. Rena is also a teaching artist at the International Piccolo Flute Academy. 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. She is available for personal or group Zoom Body Mapping sessions. For more information about Rena and Body Mapping tips, please visit

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