ArticlesDecember 2021EssaysFeaturedIssuesMusician Wellness

Returning to the Stage, Part 2  

by Rena Urso

On October 18th the Oakland Symphony returned to the Paramount Theater for the first time since February 22, 2020. As I wrote in my column, Returning to the Stage Part 1, this was my first live performance since February 2020. This concert was a memorial, a massive gathering of performing artists from all corners of the country, honoring of our music director Michael Morgan, who sadly passed away in August. As expected, there were a lot of emotions; balancing the weight of Michael’s physical absence, as well as of friends and colleagues who we’ve lost over this past 20 months, and our first time back on stage. This special time together provided us a meaningful opportunity to gather, honor, remember, and celebrate all the awesomeness that was Michael. Returning to Oakland was a juxtaposition of feelings of extreme joy and those of profound loss.

One week earlier I seriously injured my right wrist. Not knowing the extent of the injury, I decided to roll the dice and head to Oakland. I wasn’t exactly sure how much I would be able to play and accepted the fact that it might be very little. As musicians, we are so conditioned to how we do what we do, it all becomes second nature; the muscle memory needed to do something as simple as assembling and disassembling our instrument, bringing it up our face, how and where our fingers are placed on the keys, and how we take it down and set it on our lap. Suddenly each of these habitual movements were not so simple. Everything required more time and thought.

The morning I arrived in Oakland, my friend and Oakland Symphony colleague Amy Likar picked me up at the airport and we headed over to our favorite local spot for tea near the hall. While we were mapping out our plans for the next couple of days, someone was in the process of a smash and grab on Amy’s rental car. Thirty minutes later when we got back to the car, a group of thoughtful bystanders told us what happened. The good news was that I had the most important things on me: my flute (of course!), wallet, and passport. The bad news was that my suitcase, which was in the trunk, was long gone and all that was left behind was a smashed-out window in the rental car.

Despite the day’s unfortunate events and the growing discomfort in my hand, our rehearsal that evening was an incredibly meaningful experience. I walked out on stage, looked out at our magnificent hall and with gratitude I can’t begin to express, sat down, and soaked it all in. What a gift to be in the moment and appreciate this reunion with my Oakland Symphony family; I was filled with enormous pride to be a part of the fabric of a compassionate, creative, and diverse community, not just Oakland or the Bay Area specifically, but our amazing community of musicians. And gratitude to have been in the musical sphere of Michael Morgan for the past 18 seasons. It was all there, the heartbreak and loss many have experienced, and yet there we were, together again forever changed.

My trip back home to Chicago gave me opportunity to reflect. It got me thinking about all the times I sat in my orchestra, stressing out about playing well, worrying about all the possible what ifs, and obsessing whether an entrance was soft/loud/beautiful enough. Or the many injuries I’ve endured in the past, each time wondering if this was going to be the one that ended my career. What an unhelpful and unnecessary waste of time and energy. Here’s the thing; sometimes we can’t take a step back to be objective and see the whole picture when we’re in it. In those moments on stage or driving to and from the physical therapist, those feelings were very real. It isn’t until after the fact that we can look back with a truer perspective.

This is why the somatic and inner work we do is so essential.

  • Build a deep well of resilience. It helps us to weather the storms in life.
  • Know your body and believe in yourself. Just like eating well and staying physically fit will help us to stay healthy, or, building stores of technique on our instrument will be there for us when an especially difficult piece comes along, the same is true here.
  • Allow yourself to feel all the feelings and still be 100% present in the moment. Or, as my friend Dave Razowsky says: “Feel the feelings you’re feeling when you’re feeling the feelings you’re feeling.” We may be so deeply moved on stage that we are brought to tears. It happened to me more than once in Oakland and I wasn’t alone. How awesome is it that what we do for a living can have such a profound effect on us?

We are all still living a lot of life. Give yourself permission to sit and feel. Body Mapping helps us to find more ease and fluidity in all the things we do. The practice of yoga and meditation gives us the gift of finding stillness in our body and mind when faced with uncomfortable situations. And, in those moments, understanding that these feelings and sensations are only temporary. We can navigate difficult things; knowing that everything will ultimately be OK. Trust your deep well of patience and resilience and remember that reconnecting to your breath is always available to you and will help you settle into the present moment. These vital grounding tools will be there for us all during life’s trickiest times.

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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