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Thoughts from a Musician's Heart

TIMING by Elianna Thorne

“The Lord says, ‘I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.’” – Psalm 32:8

I first considered joining a community orchestra right after college. I had auditioned for a few semi-professional groups with no success and was having the same amount of luck with local freelancing, so I called the orchestra in mid-September to ask if they had room for another cellist. You can guess what they said. I had missed their auditions, and most of the members had been in the group for years and weren’t in any hurry to leave. Minneapolis/St. Paul is full of musicians and is a hard market to break into, especially having attended an out-of-state conservatory program, so after a while I gave up in search of a “real job.”

In the following years, I occasionally gave thought to joining another community orchestra, but there were plenty of reasons why I didn’t want to. The repertoire wouldn’t be hard enough, people from my youth orchestra days might recognize me and ask what I was doing with my life, and I was preoccupied with work and other things. But over time, I found it harder and harder to motivate myself to take out my cello. Without any external performance goals, I was drifting, and I was losing the passion for music that had driven me for so many years.

I finally decided to give that same orchestra from years ago another try, the one that I knew played at a high level and covered a diverse repertoire. This was March of 2020. The orchestra’s personnel manager was more than happy to keep me informed about future auditions, but those didn’t happen as soon as anyone had hoped. After over a year of waiting out the quarantine, I was given the chance to audition this past summer, and with that the opportunity to remember how it feels to be truly nervous.

Performance anxiety has been the bane of my existence since grade school and, unfortunately, it has not mellowed over time. On the day of my audition, my fitness tracker informed me that my pulse had risen to 120 beats per minute, which explained the shakiness, scattered thoughts, and deep sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that have long been a part of my pre-performance ritual. I did some deep breathing in the warm-up room to lower my heart rate to a steadier level, patted my damp palms against my long skirt, and carried my instrument and music into the audition room.

Before the audition, I prayed that I would be able to do my best. Not my best of all time, because for me that only occurs in the safety of the practice room, but the best I could possibly do in an adjudicated situation. I’m not a great soloist, but I am a dependable and responsive ensemble player. God knew that, and He threw me a life preserver that day. After I played my solo piece and we moved into the excerpts, I was delighted to discover that the reason each audition slot was 20 minutes long was so that the conductor could give notes on the excerpts and see how well each candidate followed directions. This I could do.

I was so relieved when it was over because my prayers had been answered. I had done my best, and I was overjoyed. At that moment, I didn’t care whether I got into the orchestra; it was enough of a triumph to have auditioned after so many years and not have melted down completely. Not only was I able to show my true area of expertise through the excerpts, but there were also no surprise hand cramps, no memory slips, and only a minimal amount of skidding through the gnarly fast passages. I could hardly believe it when the emails started coming the next day: from the personnel manager, from the cello section leader, and even the orchestra’s member newsletter. I was in. I was back among my people.

I have wondered since then if I could have joined the orchestra earlier, but I believe that this was God’s intended timing. I needed to move beyond my failed expectations of a career in music and humbly put myself in His hands, and that has taken longer than I like to admit. Because of the quarantine, there were more openings than usual this season due to several members taking a sabbatical for their health and safety, which meant there was an opening and a need for me that otherwise wouldn’t have been. The orchestra members have welcomed me with an open friendliness beyond anything I expected or hoped for, and that along with everything else convinces me that this is exactly how God meant it to be.


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