On Tips and Reminders (My Personal APTA Festival Experience)

In my blog entry Sturm und Drang - Second Movement, I mentioned that I submitted my entry to the Teachers' Solo/Recital Class at the APTA Festival. My performance was this morning. Playing in the teacher's class was a unique festival experience. Gone was the churning stomach, hyperventilation and jello fingers from my competitive festival days.

The atmosphere this morning was fairly jovial. We were a little nervous but it felt more like playing at a master class at university with one's buddies. With the exception of one performer, I knew everyone else in the room - including the adjudicator, Helve Sastok.

We joked that it was far too early to perform. Musicians function better on stage anytime after 2:00 pm. We reminisced about how the 9:00 AM performance reminded us of early morning lessons and exams. We chatted before and between performances. A couple of us went in and out of the room to go upstairs to hear our own students perform upstairs. I went up to hear one of my students perform before returning to perform my songs.

Helve was wonderful as an adjudicator. She saluted us all for entering the class and praised our musicianship. Then, she got into the nitty gritty details, which is what we all wanted from her.

Teachers still succumb to the same challenges our students do onstage. Elements that were perfect during at-home practice were less secure onstage. Helve remarked that the heaviness of the bass on the piano we played on "wasn't the piano's fault". Touché - even teachers have voice balancing issues.

We even dish out the same excuses to the adjudicator that our students give us.

Helve gave us great tips on dealing with nerves while playing. If our hands and arms start to shake sit up straight and roll the shoulders back. If our leg starts to shake, shift your weight onto the buttock cheek of the shaking leg to force it to stop.

She reminded us that even though we knew everyone in the room, this was a formal performance setting. From the moment we rise from our chair to the moment we return to it after playing, we're performing. In short, no banter between songs and no critiquing your performance just after your bow.

One of my students and I played at the exact same time. We listened to her songs in between my pieces.

My Bartok Bagatelle came off stronger than I anticipated. I just need to readjust the balance between my voices in the middle and try a new practice tip for dealing with the technically challenging last three lines. I have three more weeks to tidy it up before my studio's year-end recital.

I thought my left hand wasn't loud enough in my Chopin Nocturne but overcompensated, drowning out my right hand melody. Helve had me drop my wrist in certain spots to give my thumb less leverage, make my left hand slither across the keys in the opening to keep it light, soft and smooth and take the ending much more broadly. Oh, I missed the ottava at the end of the third page. I never noticed it when I was learning it. Oops. So much for the big sparkly climax then. Once I fix those troublespots, it will certainly shine.

Onto my final song, Houki Boshi, which I partially improvised upon and embellished. Some of the themes that I had planned for ahead of time did come across as being more rehearsed than improvised however, she liked how I snuck in snippets of Pachelbel's Canon, Leaving on a Jet Plane and my Nocturne (the last done in a rumba style). Of course, she wouldn't have recognized another anime theme song I threw in. I got a few more good tips on improvisation and a reminder to provide dynamic contrast. I'll have to listen to more jazz to see how the musicians transition from the main theme to their improv.

All in all, a good experience. Sure, it was stressful making ourselves speed learn high level songs and memorize them in a short time span - on top of teaching, family, household and community commitments. Sure, our performances were not without glitches. However, there is no doubt that it was an extremely valuable experience for us, not only as teachers but as performers striving to improve. For to teach, we must continue to learn.

(c) 2007 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Overcoming Stage Fright

Call it what you want - performance jitters, butterflies, stage fright - it all comes down to the same sickening feeling people get before performing. It doesn't happen all the time but when it does, it can be paralyzing. Here are some interesting articles on how to overcome stage fright (some are music related, some are general):

Also, I hear these books are very good:

Happy reading.

(c) 2006 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Practice Makes Excellent

When I was a young piano student, I often heard "Practice makes perfect". I have no doubt that one of the reasons I had a history of choking in performance was because of the pressure to be perfect. Notes, rhythm, dynamics, shaping - everything had to be flawless. Well, in a live performance situation, "flawless" is next to impossible to achieve. A drafty room, a sticky key, a new piece, an audience member unwrapping a cough lozenge wrapper just a little too loudly, a child in the back row asking his mom "Is it over yet?", a guest wandering over and startling the performer - such factors lead to the "unexpected" happening in a performance.

Now, as a teacher and a professional musician who plays at wedding and parties, I have unlearned the mindset for perfection. Oh, I still try to get everything to the best of my ability but now I strive for painting a musical picture as vividly as possible. I heard a motivational speaker say "strive for excellence, not perfection." What I've learned from playing at numerous gigs is that most people don't know you've made a mistake unless you draw attention to it. Keep going, smile and don't miss a beat whatever you do.

I bring this up because I am practicing for a couple of gigs taking place next week. With a full studio, it's hard to find time to practice. I try to squeeze in a couple of gig songs a night after teaching. Gigging has taught me to embellish and fake it. How liberating to not have to play anything exactly as written. How necessary it is to embellish and fake so that I can play through 40 - 50 songs for one of the gigs.

The only problem is, if I play some classical music after the gig material, I find it hard to play anything "straight."

(c) 2005 by Musespeak(tm). All rights reserved.