Helen’s Bloopers

Easter Flute Flop

I was the soloist yesterday for Easter Sunday at my church. I played with a new pianist who I knew would not be a super musician. I really wanted to play yesterday because besides being Easter, it was also my birthday. I collaborated with her on the choice of music: pieces with which she was familiar and weren’t too difficult for her. She had the music for the past three months, she practiced diligently, and our rehearsal last week went well.

I attend an informal church, where we do all styles of music and services are casual.

Our opening piece, What a Wonderful World, went fine. During the meditation piece, Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, she miscounted in one section; I was a bit annoyed but we got back on track and it was OK.

Just before we began our third piece, the offertory, I thanked everyone for their lovely birthday wishes. I said that I’d hoped to have woken up that morning resurrected, with 30 fewer pounds, no grey hair, and wrinkle-free. Everyone chuckled. I wished everyone a happy Easter, and announced the title of our new-age piece, Beautiful Thoughts.

About 3/4 of the way through, she had a piano solo, and I was waiting to come back in, and I waited, and waited…..she went off somewhere very pretty but nothing that was ever before heard by me…..I kept listening for a place to come in….nothing…I thought, OK, I’ll just jump in and start, but there was no place that made harmonic sense, and I knew if I just started, I couldn’t trust her to find me, as I would trust any of the other pianists with whom I usually play (who wouldn’t have gone off like this in the first place). And of course, in my head were all my years of training and experience: “don’t stop no matter what,” and my years of drumming into my students’ heads, “don’t stop, keep going, the pianist will find you,”….but I just knew it wasn’t going to happen.

By now, it was clear to the audience that I was lost, and of course they were thinking that messed up. And from somewhere inside of me, out came, “Help! I need some resurrecting here!” The entire congregation cracked up laughing, and it gave myself and the pianist enough time to say, “top of page 6” and we started there together, and finished the piece, along with long and strong applause, not for the music, I don’t think, but support for us getting through.

I laughed as I acknowledged the applause, and the minister hugged me, saying she didn’t need to give a sermon that day, that I had shown what calling for help, and acting with grace and poise were all about. And I answered that that morning my girlfriend had sent me an Easter/birthday email and written “She hath risen” and I guess I had. Everyone laughed again.

Later, having a birthday lunch with my husband and friends, I thought about years ago, when I would have berated myself inside my head so hatefully: “I’m so angry at that pianist for messing up this beautiful music. I’m so upset that everyone thinks I messed up when it was really her. I need to go tell everyone that it was her fault, not mine. I ruined the service, I ruined my birthday, I’m going to feel bad all day, maybe all week. I’m a terrible flutist. I’m depressed. I hate myself. No one will really like me anymore or want to hear me play again.” And on and on and on……

But I felt not a whiff of that yesterday. I felt great. I felt safe. I’ve played in that church for 16 years, was music director for 11, and something like this has never happened to me there, or in any other performing situation. I thought the whole thing was hilarious!!! I laughed and laughed and felt wonderful! I felt I acted like a true professional, and I didn’t care that a mistake had happened, because I rose above it, and turned it into something wonderful, and I allowed myself to feel my humanity. Wow, have I ever come a long way. I may not have been resurrected, but I felt liberated.

How I wish my students had been there!!!!! I’d rather that they had witnessed this than all my so-called perfect performances. I wish my students saw and heard all the people who complimented me on my music – those who said they loved my music with no comment on the blooper at all, who were so sincere in their praise who just didn’t care about the mistake. And those who did comment on the mess-up – positively! I wish my students were there to hear the absolute lack of even one person who said anything negative about the mistake. I wish they’d learn that when I compliment them on their recital performance, and they say, “oh, but I messed up and played a Bb instead of a B natural,” how they’re not perceiving the true nature of their performance.

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