During the time I worked at The Art Institute of Chicago, I loved working at the information desk just inside the Michigan Avenue doors. (OK, I loved it as long as the boys drumming on buckets weren't nearby and sending pounding rhythm through the lobby.)
I had all sorts of questions, even one man who asked "Do you have anything ugly?" (He came back grinning after I sent him to see Ivan Albright's "The Picture of Dorian Grey.")
But the one question I never got was "How do you get to Orchestra Hall?" (Or Symphony Center, as I know to call it.) I was really ready for that question.
When I was growing up, my parents loved to remind me how to get to Carnegie Hall -- "Practice, practice, practice." That's what I'd have said first if anyone had ever asked me about Orchestra Hall, before a reassuring "You're almost there" and the real directions.
I did eventually get to New York City, and Carnegie Hall was one of the things I wanted to see when I was not training for a new job. I bought a city map, discovered that Carnegie was near my hotel, and walked there.
I remember writing home that I'd made it to Carnegie Hall on the first try, and so much for the old (old) joke.
But that doesn't mean I have given up on practicing. When I recited a poem for a World War I centennial concert last November, I practiced it walking, looking at family photos, and finally reciting along with YouTube videos. (Thank you, Dame Helen Mirren.)
When I came to recite, I knew I had that poem committed to memory.
Some people wondered whether I had been nervous. I think the best answer to that was "Not anymore." The right amount of practicing, whether for a reading or on my cello, makes me know I can do what I need to do -- ideally, that I know the most about what I'm doing of anyone in the room. Then it's not p-p-p-erforming, it's "I have something important to tell you."
It takes lots of practice to get to that point.
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