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Notes from the back row: Unexpected inspiration, an island in the stormy sea

By Charlotte B. Cerminaro
web posted March 22, 2021

Just as most of life's biggest adversities and trials don't happen at the times we would expect, at our convenience or when we believe we're prepared for them, neither do the times when we become the receiver--or the giver--of inspiration. For many of us, life can resemble a long, stormy ocean voyage with little to hold on to and only occasional respite from turbulence. As performers, our job is to put our own personal turbulence aside and to inspire others. We are paid to put on a good show, come hell or high water, thus the phrase, "The show must go on."

Indeed, being able to deliver a powerfully moving and intense performance with certain precision, is a hallmark of a true professional. Sometimes our personal issues can even add fuel to the fire, so to say, in carefully balanced and controlled amounts so as not to become a sappy, sloppy or self-centered show. More surprising is that occasionally, our greatest influence and the biggest gift we give isn't prepared or expected, and sometimes we don't get to choose our best. Just as we've been helped by some small remark from one individual when we needed it most, there are times when we pay it forward, whether intended or not.

It seemed ironic when, after the concerts that were less than memorable, audience members approached to express gratitude for being profoundly moved. One night in particular our guest conductor got lost, gave a bad cue and a couple of us dropped "clams" in the confusion. I sulked all the way to the parking lot afterward. It was then that a woman walked over and spoke, her voice trembling with emotion. She said she was a musician, too, and that it was months since she'd attended a live concert. She was there with her elderly parents and they were all very inspired by the performance. They hadn't noticed any mistakes, apparently, and I wasn't going to bring it up. I thanked her in return and was pleased that they enjoyed it.

Naturally such occurrences force us to question our perspective on the entire performance but they also highlight the less obvious--even subtle--motives behind some of our best, most inspired efforts. We all know that coping with adversity is part of life. People can be overwhelmed with adversity and tragedy for so long, yet those closest to them might be completely unaware of it. Performing requires a certain "compartmentalizing" of life's struggles but sometimes we forget (or don't realize) the effects our problems have when chronically left unchecked. The greatest aspirations can be plowed under, the highest standards obscured; collectively and individually, we can even lose sight of the unique identity and history of performing arts--its main purpose: Transcendence.

An essential part of dealing with life's inevitable problems is having the occasional respite, a momentary 'breath of fresh air', even if it's just for perspective or to regather our strength to continue. We all need this, even (and especially) those of us who have become expert compartmentalizers. Getting too accustomed to ignoring our own turbulence, we stop looking for peace, support, help or inspiration. We start to forget why--why we are doing this difficult job, making sacrifices--when one of the most subtle and profound reasons we've ever found, has been lost in the storm. If we fail to see that little island of rest in the vast, stormy ocean, we're more likely to stop looking: Believe that it's not even there and think that we have reached our capacity to inspire, and to be inspired. Thankfully, in this complex world there are still many unexpected surprises no matter how long and arduous the voyage. ESR

Charlotte B. Cerminaro is a Juilliard-trained classical musician who, in addition to being a studio and orchestral musician, enjoys writing and has a degree in Molecular Biology. © 2021

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