Cello Thought For the Day: It’s OK To Take a Day Off From Practice Sometimes

By Miranda Wilson

My husband and I took our instruments on our honeymoon. Yes, it’s a good thing we found each other, because I’m not sure anyone else would tolerate us.

I was that undergraduate playing scales in the practice room at two in the morning.

I was the high school student who got up at five to play the cello for two hours before school, then hurried home after school for another two.

My name is Miranda, and I’m a workaholic.

When you’re a professional musician, you’re only as good as your last gig. Practice never, ever stops. You don’t get to a point where you can sit back and reflect that you are now perfect, therefore you can ease off a little. It doesn’t work like that.

Moreover, anyone who’s a professional musician was likely also a musically gifted child, and received a lot of attention and rewards for their abilities. And if you didn’t practice, you could expect the withdrawal of approval, and even affection, from the grown-ups who wanted you to do it.

There’s a lot of guilt and shame wrapped up in the topic of practice.

Which is exactly why you should sometimes take a day off.

*

I once asked a very successful pianist friend how she did what she did. How was it possible to travel as much as she did, learn the vast quantities of complicated new music she played, and still look so remarkably happy?

She smiled, and said “I guess I acknowledged that I’m a human first and a pianist second.”

What a striking thought — to treat oneself as a human. Music school often seems like a competition to see who can do the most hours of practice, sleep the least, and achieve the most. If I’d heard this statement in my student days, I’d have assumed the person saying it was somehow “soft.”

*

Today, I took a day off practice. I hadn’t meant to, but then while I was out running a morning errand, I almost got in a car crash while driving in heavy snow. When I got home my body seemed to want to slow down. I sat on my sofa under a blanket and looked out the window at the snow falling on the aspens in my backyard.

The most surprising part of taking a day off practice is how long an afternoon is when you don’t fill it with work. There’s time to stand and stare. My younger self might have thought of this as self-indulgence, but in this snowy afternoon, it felt like self-care.

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