Some food for thought. I just saw the new movie The Hurt Locker, a terrific and tension-packed film about soldiers whose job it is to defuse ordnance (roadside bombs, boobytraps, I.E.D.s) in Iraq. The similarities to horn playing immediately come to mind: here is another job where you are not allowed to make mistakes, except that the penalty for a bomb “clam” is, oh, a bit higher that ours. It’s a good idea to try to learn something from every person and every experience in life. What can we take away from this one?

The first thing that comes to my mind is an earlier post: the three pillars of performance: relaxation, focus, and ego detachment. The bomb defuser needs to be relaxed (not tense) so that he can do his job quickly and surely – hands shaking from tension would be understandable, but not helpful. He needs to be absolutely focused on the job at hand in every detail. And he needs to keep it emotion-free as he does his job.

How does someone do a job like this (not all that different from playing first horn in a major orchestra, except that the penalty for imperfection happens much quicker for a de-fuser “clam”)? One reviewer asked this question – how do these guys do this job day after day (my dad did this in WWII – I’m lucky to be here)? What kind of mindset does it take.? The answer the reviewer got was that the bomb disposal experts think of themselves more as predators than prey – a very distinct and vividly contrasting difference. Prey moves away from dangerous encounters. Predators move toward it. Prey are suffused with fear, which manifests itself in muscle-freezing tension. Predators are calm, relaxed, and see clearly what they must do. Perhaps there’s a way to work for this kind of attitude so that when we are threatened by a “dangerous” situation (e.g. orchestra solo in concert or solo recital), we mentally “move toward” it – to solve, it conquer it, defeat it, rather than sneaking up on it and hoping that we survive somehow. Having a predator attitude just might make the difference between getting the job done or not. It’s easier said than done, but starting with an awareness of what our attitude is toward any “dangerous work” coming our way, we might make our job easier by assuming a more “predatory” attitude.