By Rena Urso
Several years ago, I decided I wanted to finally learn to speak Italian. I would work at it sporadically, but with a full performing and teaching schedule, it was always the first thing to go as soon as life became too busy. With my dual Italian citizenship on the horizon, I decided to return to it earlier this year. My husband John and I enrolled in an Italian language school in Italy. We spent a couple of months in Torino this fall, our home away from home, studying the language and immersing ourselves in the daily life and culture of beautiful Italy.
It was as if I was in training for an orchestral audition; I began preparing for this adventure several months ahead of time by downloading Italian language apps, reading Italian blogs, and watching Italian tv shows. Growing up in an Italian household where my dad and his siblings would often speak Italian, I understood the language well. Working with an instructor in a classroom for three hours a day, five days a week, was much different; I loved being a student again, but I quickly realized that it was far more challenging than I anticipated. I noticed that my lack of confidence in the Italian language was creating feelings of anxiety and frustration instead of allowing myself to simply be where I was in the moment and have fun with the process.
The self-talk and feelings of anxiety felt all too familiar; I was applying old unhelpful behaviors and habits from my life as a classical musician to my life as an Italian student.
As classical musicians, we are forever placing our work under a microscope and asking ourselves where are the weak links, when do they happen and how do we fix them, and what can we do better/differently? Seems we are always reinventing the wheel. We find comfort in familiarity with the things we do well – until something new or different comes along and challenges us. This can enable us to flourish as humans and artists. It becomes a problem when we are not kind to ourselves during this process.
Like many of us, I have been doing what I do as a musician for many years. A common mindset of a classical musician is always striving for precision and perfection. Of course, accuracy is essential for a professional musician. Perfection, on the other hand, is rarely attainable. We are humans, not robots, and we ought to have fun while we embark on something unfamiliar. Patience, time and allowing things to unfold naturally are all essential to the learning process.
Through my practice of yoga and meditation, I have learned to be less reactive, to let things go that no longer serve me well, and to not take myself so seriously all the time. These are just a few of the myriad lessons I continue to learn and bring back to my work as a flutist. Perhaps you have read some of my previous columns addressing these topics. If not, I invite you to do so.
Taking on the challenge of learning a language or a difficult new piece of music ought to be approached with joy, curiosity, and enthusiasm. Especially when we are the ones who chose it! Think back to when you first started to play the flute and how each new note you learned was so exciting! Those feelings still exist in all of us; it is why we do what we do. When we allow things to unfold naturally in the learning process instead of forcing or not speaking kindly to ourselves, we avoid unnecessary tension, stress, and frustration.
Looking ahead to 2023 and the fresh start a new year brings, what new thing would you like to learn? What sparks your curiosity? Give yourself permission to be a confident and curious beginner again. Welcome and embrace mistakes. Learning something new takes time, so our patience is essential. It’s OK not to be great or even good at everything. Have fun and enjoy the process of learning. In these moments, we grow and discover something unexpected and special to bring back to what we do as artists.
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 – returning in June 2023 in Mondovì, Italy! 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 Po and Girl. She is available for personal or group Zoom Body Mapping sessions. For more information about Rena and Body Mapping tips, please visit www.renaurso.com.