At this point the simplest choice might be to just not perform: I have a full-time academic job that doesn't actually require me to perform (although they "like it" when I do). It would be fun to have time/energy/head space to do "normal people" things like have a social life, hobby, sometimes watch tv or movies, go to concerts...or talk to mom a couple of times per week (I'm trying not to whine too much - but it is true that I have time for none of that. I really do try to call my mom, though...). Many others do a very excellent job of playing music for people, and there are many young players in much better physical shape than I am, eager to play anywhere and everywhere. So why, then, should I perform? Is it enough to say, I love playing the cello and therefore I should do it? Seems kind of selfish and self-indulgent to me. And if that's the only reason, do I really have to do it in front of people, under a lot of pressure, where the stakes are high? Just because I think I have something to say? And who wants to listen, anyway? What if people don't come...
To perform at the level I want, I have to practice every day, preferably at least two hours (although, if you've read my other posts I'm working on a cross-fitness routine that might cut down the maintenance part - the "getting better" and "learning new music" parts will always and forever be time consuming). Sometimes, no matter how much I prioritize practice, I simply can not fit it into my day. And, after a full day of kids-work-kids-more work, having been up at the crack of dawn and being done with teaching at 10pm or later, what energy/brain do I have left for practicing the cello? Do I REALLY need to? (whiney voice again, sorry...)
I REALLY do. Having not played the cello at all for a bit when the kids were really small, I've thought about this a lot. Getting older, I know I'm in not in the same kind of physical shape I was 15 years. Here are some reasons why I do it, anyway, and why I think it's important (hopefully not in a selfish way). Your reasons are probably different - but in my opinion, taking the long view and knowing why you do what you do is very important.
1. Music is good for the human kind. Self-expression is essential for people: if we all could express ourselves through art, maybe as a society we wouldn't need so many chemicals to temper our moods. There are things performers communicate through music and programming: it helps to offer perspective and reflection on human things like emotions. It helps give inspiration. It helps understand ourselves and others. I was particularly struck by this after our "Of Motherhood and Friendship" concert - that simple title contextualized the program in such a way that it strongly resonated with the audience: I've never had as many comments about how inspired and energized people were afterward. To hear those comments, and to see that joy is amazingly meaningful, and really drives home the importance of playing a program like that. Context matters, and juxtaposing new and old and standard and weird pieces can show them in different lights. Lot's of creative opportunities here!
2. Choices: I want to play music that people would not otherwise hear. Here I have to say that, if someone hired me to play the Dvorak Cello Concerto, I would not mind: I might, though, question what I can bring to it that someone else hasn't already done (better). When I started to panic a little before my Finnfest concerto performance this summer, it made all the difference to think about whether or not the audience would ever have been able to hear the Uljas Pulkkis Madrigal (a GREAT and difficult piece, very approachable for the audience in a unique and current way) if I hadn't chosen it. The positive feedback from the orchestra really also helped: it's easy to tell when people are honest about liking a piece of new music. Seems like playing straight up classical music is becoming more of a cause, too, and I feel as though more pieces are being added to the category of "pieces people would not otherwise hear" daily. Sometimes I get especially lucky and get to take part in creating something new and meaningful: latest example is of course Musica Mestiza. I think I will be feeding off of that creative energy for a long time.
3. I am an energy louse: I feed off the energy of others. This is why I love playing at the Kerrytown Concert House: when you get a 100 people there, the place hums with good vibes. This is why I love playing with kindred spirits: in performance, our energies mesh together and get projected into the environment. That's a kind of a selfish reason, but I also think the audience gets caught up in this kind of positive energy that only a live performance can create, in real time, without any kind electronic enhancement or device.
4. Humans seek to belong, we seek to have a community, or a "tribe". I think we experience a great sense of belonging and togetherness when we play music (or sports) with like-minded and like-skilled others, regardless of the level of proficiency. It matters a lot, which is why emotions also often get heated up in rehearsal. But how does this transfer to professional environments, symphony concerts or spectator sports? I think as humans we pick "the best of the best" from our tribe and set them forth to represent ourselves, in battle, in games, and yes, in performance. At Michigan, it is difficult to ignore this point: we have a very strong sense of pride in "Blue" and it is, indeed, a very powerful network to have. In some way, I represent my teachers, my teammates and my culture every time I perform - they have made me who I am as a performer. Most often it is a comforting thought, but does put some pressure on me to represent myself well - and gives me motivation to practice at 10pm after a full day of other work!
So why do you push yourself? I'm curious - do let me know!