It’s September, the school year has begun, and the concert season is looming large. This time of year is the New Year’s Eve of the academic and music world—a time for resolutions and new beginnings. For cellists everywhere these resolutions often focus around practicing—namely doing more of it. For myself, I somehow already feel behind and the temptation to try to cram as much work in as possible, especially on my “day off” from the orchestra is strong (well, to be honest there are other days when the temptation to sit on the couch is stronger). But this year my resolution is two-fold. Yes, I want to prepare upcoming repertoire earlier than ever this year but before I come up with a plan for that, I’m going to be planning my days off from the cello. It turns out, taking a real break can be one of the best things you can do to prevent all that extra practicing you’re going to do from leaving you in the doctor’s office!
Now, this isn’t just my justifying taking a day off now and then (actually, I’m aiming for one day a week totally cello-free). There’s actual science and whatnot to back me up. Rest and recovery are essential parts of any athlete or musicians’ training plan.
Back when I was in rehab for my shoulder injury the rule I was told to follow was two-days of hard work followed by one day of rest. Now, that’s obviously not going to work now for me with the cello but I figure I can make time for a day off most weeks. Some of the most demanding training regimens in the sports world are those of elite gymnasts. Their standard routine? 6 days of punishing 2 or 3xday workouts followed by one day of rest. If even coaches like Bela Karolyi (the crazy Romanian/American coach who made Kerri Strug vault on a broken ankle) can see the wisdom of one day off a week then maybe I can take a day off too!
As important as taking a day off is, I also find that planning that day off and not just letting it happen when I get too busy to practice is important. The “day off” concept is not just to rest your body but also to rejuvenate your spirit. If that day off is spent running around, feeling frantic, and not spent mindfully I feel less than rejuvenated. Now mind you, by “mindfully” I don’t necessarily mean that you have to spend the day doing stuff like meditating, doing yoga, learning a foreign language, or any other manner of self-improvement. Yes, those are all wonderful things, but I’m just not that perfect (well, I’m trying to learn German but I’m still stuck on the second level of Rosetta Stone). If I can use that day to spend some time catching up at home, spend some time doing things I enjoy such as cooking or even just reading a magazine for a bit, and make sure that I reserve some time for catching up with friends and family then I figure it’s been a good day—at least it’s been successful in setting me up for a less stressful week if nothing else.
My big time-off thing though, is a once a year break—at least 2 weeks straight of absolutely NO cello. It started for me during a summer many years ago I spent at the Banff Centre. I was feeling burnt out and somewhat dispirited regarding all things cello so I took 3 weeks off. When I got back to school I spent a few weeks practicing with not just a renewed sense of energy and dedication but with fresh ears. I was suddenly hearing all kinds of old habits that I hadn’t really noticed before. It wasn’t just me—other people (i.e. my teacher) noticed that I made a huge improvement. What a revelation—I stopped practicing and got better! Now of course, I got better because of better listening and a happy, relaxed approach but still….. Now, I make this an annual tradition. I find a time every year to carve out 2 or 3 weeks for my cello to live in the closet. I find that it helps my playing and I know that it makes me happy. Really, that’s enough for me.