My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Impromptu and not-so-impromptu musical test-drives

Photo by Dave Hamster, from Wikimedia Commons
One of my goals in life is to somehow make classical music more accessible, more relevant, more enjoyable to folks who might not normally hear it.  I also strive to carry as much of my own pure personality into my music-making because that's one of the best ways that I've found to show others who I am, especially since I tend to be a bit of a shy person in the "normal" world.  My hope is also that through this approach to being a classical musician, those with whom I'm wanting to share music will see that our genre doesn't have to be seen as stuffy, doesn't have to be intellectually understood, and that I don't necessarily see myself as being above anyone else - I'm just your average, everyday mom/wife/daughter/woman whose passion happens to be connected to music.  

Being a performing musician brings its share of stress, as does any job.  Recently my own stress level has been taken to a new level thanks to my insatiable desire to keep pushing myself musically by agreeing to some small solo performances.  Solo piano has never really been my thing - I love the music, of course, but the thought of being alone on stage...whew...I just got a bit jittery tends to  make me just a wee bit more nervous.  So lately, with this increase in solo performances, I've had to figure out how to address the nerves, the self-doubts, the crazy mental conversations that go on, especially when the piece I'm about to perform is new to me.  

Going back to the first paragraph of this post, I've decided to deal with it all by simply being me, by being honest, by being somewhat transparent, and by involving the folks around me that may or may not be musicians themselves.  I have been trying to lose the bashful, apologetic, perfection-craving side of myself so that I can feel fine about asking anyone and everyone that is willing to be an impromptu  (and not-so-impromptu) audience for me: the youth choir that I accompany at our church, my one piano student and his parents, my piano trio partners, students I accompany at school, my parents...anyone qualifies.  And here is what I've learned from doing this...

First of all, I haven't had anyone turn me down for a musical test-drive and most people are genuinely excited to have the opportunity to be a part of the whole process.  Secondly, as I had suspected, it's truly amazing how few mistakes people can hear, even in an inauguration run of a piece.  Thirdly, most people, regardless of age, love listening to classical music in this more intimate, impromptu setting.  It gives me such hope and leads me to believe that the fate of classical music doesn't have to be as dire as some make it out to be.  Yes, the world has changed and tastes have changed but that doesn't mean classical music can't be enjoyed by all.  

I recently asked the youth choir director at our church if I could play for willing kids after choir was done and she responded by ending choir early and having them all file out to the sanctuary to listen.  She even went around the church and grabbed any others that were hanging around.  Turns out there was quite a large audience there in about 2 minutes.  Voila.  Instant nerve-wrackers.  Wonderful!  I had the kids sit right around the piano, as close as possible, with one girl choosing to sit practically on the piano bench with me, to my left.  At first that was a bit intimidating, but I decided halfway through this particular piece, the g minor Brahms Rhapsody, that I would have a little fun with this particular scenario.  Knowing that the last two chords of the piece can come as quite a surprise, I decided to see how surprising I could really make them.  So as I was winding down the piece, in its magically brooding fashion, I really, really exaggerated the drop to practically nothing.  Then I savored the brief moment of silence before the final two chords and then BAM!  I made those two chords shoot out like lightening, with as much tasteful force as I could muster.  The result was hilarious.  The teenager sitting next to me literally shot out of her chair, gasping for breath.  I don't know if that would have happened had she not been in such close proximity.  Needless to say, it was priceless and invaluable in proving to me the power that piece can have on anyone, including a non-classically minded teenage girl.  

Fun.  So much fun.   And so very helpful in bringing me back into the real world in regards to how I view performing, its purpose, and its appeal.

Bring on those impromptu test-drives and perhaps we can bring on board some new, fresh ears. 

Other related posts:
A no-budget way for making classical music accessible to more
Another no-budget way for making classical music accessible to more people
Don't leave home without it - performing for your own community


  1. This is such a positive post! I remember when my piano teacher for my masters degree asked me to listen to her run a new piece, and how special that made me feel! And she even asked me for my opinion afterward! I felt so valued and appreciated! I bet that's what all of your students, family and friends feel like!

  2. Thank you, Geraldine, for reading and for your comment. A group of us recently had an open rehearsal and at one point an audience member asked us why we were doing something a certain way and that, well, frankly, he perceived as being a bit boring. At first I was taken aback but after setting aside ego, I realized that of course he had a valid and even a good point that was well worth considering. :-)

    Shocking. Or maybe not so shocking. ;-)

    Thanks again,

  3. New visitor to the blog.

    I love this post. The last time I gave a classical recital was at a local music store with people seated just within feet of me and around. I really tried to make it as casual and inviting as possible and spoke with people right there all the way up until it was time to start. (It feels much different than when you are playing on a stage and separated from your audience.)

    There's a certain level of energy that comes with being able to interact with people right there and I wouldn't trade it.

    More along the lines of your original point, it is GREAT to have different ears - both trained and untrained - to get feedback and to just have that "dress rehearsal." One thing I've been kicking around was starting an informal "group masterclass" just so musicians can get together regularly and give/receive feedback on their various projects. It's a different game once you become your own teacher.

    All the best,


  4. So nice to meet you here, Kareem, and on twitter. So nice to find another performer/teacher that doesn't mind approaching music-making in a more informal way :-) And I love your idea of the group masterclass - I think I'd like to join you for something like that and I'm so glad that I'm not the only one that appreciates having a chance to perform and get feedback, whether or it's from musicians or non-musicians.

    I look forward to hearing more from you and learning more about what you do!

    Thanks again,

  5. Erica-
    I hope you will continue to do this and to spread your word about what you are doing as far and as wide as you can cast your net.
    You are an inspiration -
    Some of the most valid feedback we can get is from non-musicians.
    Three basic questions about a performance all performers might consider asking -
    Is it energetic? Is it honest? Is it mine? I think that when the answer is yes to all three we will be communicating with anyone who listens.
    thank you.

  6. Wayne, thank you. Unless something very strange happens to me I don't think I will stop doing what I'm doing. And as you know, you give me inspiration and courage daily to keep up this organic way of living as a musician.

    And your three basic questions performers might consider asking...amen to all of those!

    With so much respect and gratitude,