|Image taken by Marga Serrano, from Wikimedia.|
But here's a problem with not playing by memory...
What happens when I have the music right in front of me yet I persist in making numerous mistakes, sometimes even losing my place? What can I possibly say to explain why I can't not play by memory? Honestly, it's kind of embarrassing.
I've recently found myself in this very odd place as a collaborator. I have found reading music, especially during a performance, unusually challenging these past few months. And for someone who has always excelled at sightreading music, it has felt like someone has pulled the rug out from under me. It had even gotten to the point that I was starting to feel nervous about performing. I had to figure something out before my fear starting spiraling out of control.
So what was going on? How could I get over this hump? Or was it even a hump to get over? Maybe this problem was simply a symptom of getting older (gasp!)
Fortunately, I don't believe my aging mind and eyes were the culprit, at least not at a significant level. Here is what I discovered and how I'm working to reverse my downward slide.
State-of-mind: I have been dealing with the odd state-of-mind that I find myself in when I have basically memorized the music but still have it in front of me. I find it exhilarating to know a piece so well that it is completely internalized. Combined with the adrenalin that comes with performing, the experience can be even more exhilarating, almost to the point that I feel like I'm having an out-of-body experience. But the fact is, especially when I'm playing with others, I rarely have everything completely memorized. I never set out intentionally to memorize the music and as I mentioned earlier, I don't have a whole lot of confidence in my memory. So if I'm experiencing one of these sensational memory euphorias (or so I think), and I am shocked into reality by some distraction or wrong note, I look up at the music and find myself completely lost. I don't know where to look, I momentarily forget what key I'm in, etc...
- Solution? I remember a mentor of mine in college, Jean Barr, repeatedly reminding me, "Keep reading, Erica, keep reading!" It seems like such a redundant thing to say, but obviously I need to hear it on a regular basis. It is easy to take my eyes off the music when I'm really into a performance but doing so can be risky. So I need to keep Dr. Barr's tape playing in my head..."Keep reading, Erica, keep reading!"
State-of-the-eyes: At performances, in an effort to keep my eyes on the music, I often forget to blink my eyes. Pretty quickly my eyes start clouding over, making it virtually impossible to focus and to see the notes on the page.
- Solution? This problem has two easy solutions. First, I went to the drugstore and got some good eyedrops that actually re-coat my eyes with moisture every time I blink. And the second solution - I constantly remind myself to blink my eyes. When I get to a rest in the music or an easier section, I tell myself, "Blink!"
- Solution? Stop looking down at the keyboard! Pretty simple.
So that's what I discovered. After purposefully practicing these three things and incorporating them into my practice and rehearsals, I think I'm back on track. It seems a bit silly to practice blinking and to practice keeping my eyes on the music, but if in the end it helps, who am I to criticize?