I was away with the orchestra this weekend. It is our annual residential weekend when most of the repertoire for the coming year is first seen. There is also additional material that is brought because the conductor feels it is fun or a good fit for the group. The weekend is a chance for the players to spend more time together socially too. The orchestra was formed fifteen years ago and I have been going for ten years. This particular weekend was different though. We have a new musical director this year and it is the first year I have been since my ASD diagnosis.

For the musicians out there, you will know that weekend residentials are pretty heavy going on the old brain. Playing new music for twelve hours over a two day period is tough for amateurs when the repertoire varies from renaissance to modern, and for somebody that is rather averse to change the challenge is even greater. Sight reading for some people can be rather easy. They can play without surface thinking. A friend of mine has never practised playing scales because she doesn’t need to. She sees a note on the page and she just plays it without consciously thinking about it. The relationship between the representation on the page and the physical figuring and playing is hardwired in her body. Playing music becomes to a certain extent an unconscious act.

I have hints of this myself but I usually need to stick to the one instrument for a significant period of time. Unfortunately I like to change things up so that in the orchestra I will play any recorder from a treble downwards. Playing a treble is rare though. This seems rather contrary to my nature. Being on the autistic spectrum means that changes don’t really sit well with me so why do I put myself through this extra stress when staying on the same instrument would be easier?  I think part of this is to do with my nature unfortunately. Conforming to stereotypes just doesn’t happen to me. I just don’t do typical things. This makes sense in that I am not a typical person, I am an Aspie. But equally I should like routines. Routines provide comfort and security. Routines remove the stress of change.

But I also hate doing the same thing. If I walk into work one way then I will return home another way. If someone wants the food in a restaurant as I do and they order first, I will change my order. If I read a post someone else has written on a similar topic that I was thinking about, I want to change my post’s subject. There is something then about being seen to be different so those aren’t good examples really. To me routine is boring. If I have done it once, why repeat it? I remember finally getting a decent photograph of the Milky Way and wondering the next time I went whether there was any point in taking more. I then moved onto including other objects with the Milky Way or trying different exposure lengths. This suggests I have a need to innovate. To keep pushing boundaries. To keep learning new things.

That all sounds rather tiring to me. It is. The reality though is that I mix routine up with change. The routine can be going swimming but changing my programme of strokes and techniques. It means riding my bike to work but changing the route to whatever way feels right that day. It means playing the same music but switching which instrument I play it on. Except playing music for the first time bypasses the routine and adds another level of change. That stress passes though. With practise the new becomes the familiar. If I stay on at the orchestra long enough, some of the pieces will come around again and so I can try seeing the piece from another angle, from another instrument.

This weekend though I came armed with some ideas for helping myself cope with the stress of the new. I packed my noise-cancelling headphones and I put them to use. During the shorter breaks I would take myself off to a quiet corner, put my headphones on and play a catchy song on my mobile. The song of the weekend was “wrong” by Depeche Mode. Not only does this song capture my self-image as I was growing up but I find the repetition of the title throughout the song a focussing spot that captures my thoughts. The rhythm is great too. I love swinging my legs and arms in time to the music. I love walking in time to the music. The whole body experience carries me through the day. Now I don’t mind admitting this must look pretty strange. A guy sitting on the bench in the sun, headphones on, eyes closed, swinging legs and hitting his thighs in time to a silent beat is unusual. That is for other people to care about though. I don’t mind. And to be truthful, nobody else said a thing.

Depeche Mode can only provide a certain amount of respite. There were still times when I began to lose myself. Times like when we played a specially commissioned piece in memory of our last conductor and the flood of sorry felt overwhelming. Times like when I wanted to change instrument but nobody else seemed to be, so I try to keep my frustration to myself. Times like the end of the day when switched to a great bass and my brain seemed to find it impossible to do the translation from note to recorder fingering.

I made it through the weekend though and even really had rather a good time. I also had energy left over to socialise and got to know our new musical director a bit. He is a nice chap. I wish though that the drinking and compulsive munching coping mechanisms could have been more restrained. Something to aim for next year then.

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