Fearless Performance by Jeff Nelsen

I'm Better Than You

This is one of my favorite stories.

Dale Clevenger is a living legend in the music world.  He played principal horn in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for over 48 years.  I often ask him why he never decided to take it seriously.  We're colleagues now, teaching at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music together, and we're having a blast.  One of his quotes I share all the time is, "Warm up!?  I never cool down."

The story goes that Dale was teaching a young horn player in a public master class. He asked the student to play the beginning of the solo piece he'd diligently prepared. The hornist played well, smiled, and looked to Dale for commentary.

He looked at the student and asked, "Have you every heard me play before?" The boy excitedly smiled and giggled out a, "Yeah, I listen to you a lot."  Dale replied, "Ok play it again, and this time play it like you're ME playing this piece."

The kid went at it again, and leaned into every musical mark, and swooned and slurred his way through what may have been an out-of-body experience.  He'd never played it better his whole life.  The audience reacted in kind, cheering full out.

Dale waited and said, "Yeah, just what I thought.  I'm a much better horn player than you are."

Genius.  Thanks Dale.
Sometime today, pretend to be your absolute favorite performer...and then play better than that.

I remember a powerful moment when I was a student.  I played my excerpts for a professional, all the while trying to show what I could do on the horn.  I played my louds as loud as I could play, my fasts as fast as possible.  He looked at me and asked, "You're really young, aren't you?"  I nodded.  He said, "Well, you need the illusion of maturity."

I won my first professional audition 2 months later. 

Be your greatest today.  Sometimes your greatest includes parts of someone else, but that's you too.
...and that's ok if it works!!!
(Still using my illusion of maturity at times...)

Jeff Nelsen
Jeff Nelsen


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