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.

Friday, August 31, 2012

To practice or not to practice on the day of a not-so-ideal performance?

© OlliFoolish -
Here's the situation I faced when I woke up this morning:
  • I have a performance this evening, a recital of trio music for piano, oboe, and horn
  • I received the music one month ago
  • I have never heard, seen, or played either of these pieces prior to receiving it
Last night we had a dress rehearsal that was disguised as a performance at a local retirement community.  For the most part it went quite well and I enjoyed myself immensely, but as is often the case with music that is really new in my fingers, ears, and heart, there were many times when I found that little annoying voice in my head saying, "Um, have we done this before?" and other times where it simply screamed, "Eeeeeeeeck!"  That little voice doesn't discriminate between difficult passages and what should be easy ones so by the end of the performance I was glowing but also exhausted and a little bewildered as to how to approach the next 24 hours.  Normally on performance day I try to stay away from the music to be performed because I've found that it can more often than not, freak me out.  If I bomb a passage while warming up guess what's going through my head the moment I walk out on stage to perform the same piece.  Right.  An instant replay of the whole incident.  And guess how relaxed I am as I get closer and closer to the passage in question?  Yep.  Not very relaxed.  So with pieces I've performed quite a bit already or that I have worked on for months and months I tend to play completely unrelated music that I love to play to get me connected to my instrument and to the joy of playing music.  Unfortunately these days, as a collaborative pianist who is constantly learning new music and being asked to perform when it is not at the level of comfort I'd like, this tactic of not playing the piece at all doesn't work so well and doesn't tend to lead to having a calm spirit when I walk on stage.  So what to do?

When music feels uncomfortably new to me, my new tactic that I've been trying recently and that I did this morning was that I play through the least comfortable movements and passages at a tempo that allowed my body and mind to remain consistently relaxed.  Here's what I'm looking for when I'm doing this:
  • A connection with what it feels like to be playing this music in a relaxed state
  • Time to audiate and truly hear everything I'm playing as it is happening which also enables me to play slowly while preserving and even exploring musicality
  • Time to predict and audiate what's coming up next which helps even more with musicality
  • Time to breathe regularly, especially during the challenging passages where I tend to hold my breath
  • A freedom in movement, especially in my arms and hands, where I'm tempted to tense up in anticipation of a difficult sequence of notes
  • Time to also hear the other players' parts in my head so that they don't catch me off-guard in performances
  • A chance to fall in love with the music I'm playing
In the past when I've slow practiced with these things in mind, it reminds me of the music in a non-threatening way and it allows me to build a positive connection with the music that I can carry with me when I walk onto the stage.  It's still a relatively new tactic of mine so I suppose we'll see how it works for me this evening.

I would cross my fingers but that might make it a little tricky to play.  Plus too much tension involved.

Update post-performance: The performance went really well and I felt my body reconnect with the ease I felt in my practice session while I was playing slowly.  My ears were also much more engaged after hearing everything at a slower tempo earlier.  Conclusion?  It worked this time!  I'll keep testing the method.  And if anyone else tries it, do let me know how it works for you. 


  1. Great post, Erica. I tell my students pretty much the same thing - but you said it so eloquently! This post is bookmarked. I especially love the last point - about falling in love with the music as you're playing it through.

    1. Thank you, LaDona. I'm not surprised that you say the same things - you're students are fortunate to have you as their mentor!

      Happy teaching and thank you for taking the time to read and comment :-)