The theme at last week’s group classes was becoming a bulletproof musician. The idea has been percolating in my mind ever since I discovered Dr. Noa Kageyama’s blog on performance anxiety and mindful practice, called The Bulletproof Musician.
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.
"This week, I want you to practice performing." My students have been hearing me say this throughout the week, in preparation for my studio's winter recital on Sunday. We only have one shot on stage to weave our magic for the audience. Many musicians can attest to nailing their songs in the practice room, only to have everything fall apart on stage.
The secret is to practice performing. One must play through the song(s) in a performance setting, where you can get that heart pounding, feel the weight of all eyes on you and play through distractions. Some tricks I've learned along the way:
- perform often: the more you perform, the more used you get to the stress and the easier it gets
- cajole your family and friends to be a guinea pig audience - have them be a model audience one time and a disruptive one the next run-through
- know your repertoire really well
- visualization: visualize the setting, yourself playing well, yourself successfully navigating through a stumble, memory glitch
- breathing techniques
- put Maestro to work: Sometimes, I allow Maestro to provide distractions for the students to perform through. His favourite techniques include surrounding the student with toys, hopping on the bench and singing along.
Here are some cool articles on performance anxiety/jitters:
Happy reading! (c) 2007 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.
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:
- The Inner Game of Music by W. Timothy Gallwey
- The Young Musician's Survival Guide: Tips from Teens & Pros by Amy Nathan
(c) 2006 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.