great performances

Coping and Recovery Strategies

This month, my students are performing in our Winter Showcase. For some, this marks their debut performance. This week, we've been working on various coping and recovery strategies. As much as we would like to believe that we'll play everything cleanly, the reality is that nerves, distractions, physical and mental state, readiness and uncertainty can affect how our performance turns out.

This is what I wound up writing on my whiteboard one night - ways to avoid having a train wreck on stage. Photo by R-M Arca.

I'd like to highlight a couple of the strategies that I introduced to them last week. First - I had them drop a hand out for a phrase or two - just enough to get through a wobbly section. If you do it in phrases, then it sounds like you meant to do it that way. Just make sure that you don't drop the tune.

Another thing they tried was to simplify either the melody or the harmony (chords). A couple are playing solid chords instead of the funkier groove that is written. If you have to simplify the accompaniment to maintain the beat, so be it.

The third thing we've had to do this week is to shorten some of the pieces. I instructed them to play through until their ear "found" a logical stopping place (Those of us who have been in music for a while would call that a cadence). In one case, we added a tonic chord in as the next beat modulates to mark a new section.

For these to be automatic on stage, however, these strategies must be practiced at home. Not just once, but several times so that you commit it to muscle memory.

For when it comes down to it, no one really cares exactly what you play. They just care how you play it. So long as you don't miss a beat, the piece is recognizable and the tempo is close to the marked speed, you're set.

RCM and ConCan on Youtube

Students - did you know that the Royal Conservatory of Music and Conservatory Canada have their own Youtube Channels? Check out tips, great performances, repertoire demos and interviews with musicians past and present. Conservatory Canada Youtube Channel

Royal Conservatory of Music Youtube Channel

Great Performances - Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga

Maestro and I enjoyed watching "Tony Bennett: Duets II" on KSPS the other day. Well, he watched, I worked and listened. I've always enjoyed Tony Bennett's music and have been meaning to buy "Duets" and "Duets II".
There were so many great performances but this one stood out: Tony Bennett's duet with Lady Gaga. They sang the Rodgers-Hart classic "The Lady is a Tramp". Tony was in fine form (as expected). However, it was Lady Gaga who took me by surprise.I think this was a case where Malcolm Gladwell's Blink logic  came to play. I look at Lady Gaga and expect a certain sound, based on what she's wearing. I was expecting a strong pop performance, coupled with an outrageous outfit.
In this case, my eyes were staring at my computer monitor. When I heard Lady Gaga's opening notes, I was floored. I didn't expect her to scat and groove with Tony like she's been singing like that. Her tone, her style, her ease and sense of fun in this number completely took me by surprise.


I got to appreciate her performance for what it was: fresh, fun and polished. Then I looked up and saw the turquoise hair and that elegant dress, which matched the heart of this song to a tee.
Good. Had I looked at her first and then heard her, I would have the image of her wearing that raw meat outfit stuck in my brain. My stomach would have roiled and I would not have enjoyed her performance quite so much.

(c) 2012 by Musespeak(TM), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Great Performances - VuVox Acapella Disney Medley

My students and I have been sorting out their ensemble pieces for their upcoming group classes. In my search to find some great Disney numbers, I stumbled upon this entertaining Disney medley by VuVox Acapella.
Their pitch is incredible (always impressive with such a large a cappella group. They are also just fun to watch, which is what makes this great. They really get into their characters. The audience is captivated throughout (always a good sign):
(c) 2011 by Musespeak(TM), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Great Performances - Dietrich Fischer Dieskau Sings The Erlking

This chilling performance by baritone Dietrich Fischer Dieskau and pianist Gerald Moore has been hailed on Youtube as one of the best interpretations of this German lied.


Franz Schubert based this "Der Erlkönig" (The Elf King or "Erlking") on a poem by Goethe of the same name. In a nutshell, the singer portrays four characters: the narrator, a young boy, his father and the Erlköning. Dieskau superbly captures the nuances each character while Moore gallops through those triplets with an enviable pinnache. They paint us a soundscape of a young boy as he rides on horseback in the dark and of his encounter with the Erlking.


The duo are completely in sync, which is a feat considering I read once that the two hated each other.


Dieskau's word painting is stellar. Every time I listen to this, I get shivers when the Erlking becomes forceful and the young boy meets his fate.



(c) 20111 by Musespeak(TM), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Great Performances - Ella Fitzgerald in Berlin

Here is a fantastic example of how to handle those performance glitches. This is from jazz singer's Ella Fitzgerald 1960 performance in Berlin. Partway through, she completely blanked out on the lyrics. True to form, she improvised flawlessly. She was rhyming, she made up lyrics that really made sense. She didn't lose her cool and just went along with it - and it sounded just fine. More than fine.

Too bad I can't find video for this one. You'll have to just imagine yourself there. Enjoy!

(c) 2011 by Musespeak(TM), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

World Music Exploration - R.E.M.

And here I thought I would have a tough time choosing a pop/rock music selection for this week's entry. R.E.M. made it an easy decision for me. On September 21, 2011, the American band R.E.M. announced that they would be disbanding after 31 years of music collaboration.  The band formed in 1980 in Athens, GA and was comprised of Michael Stipe (vocals), Peter Buck (guitar), Mike Mills (bass) and Bill Berry (drums). The band is credited for having a profound influence on the development of alternative rock.

I couldn't decided between The One I Love  or Losing My Religion, so here's both:

(c) 2011 by Musespeak(TM), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.