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.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

More than meets the ears - visual and aural treats to inspire

I'm on a quest right now.  A quest to put up on this blog examples of inspiring people, performances, videos, and projects that give me incredible hope in where classical music is headed.  Of course this is all subjective - what inspires me might not inspire the next person.  And I don't always feel personally that everything that's being tried "works," but I don't know that matters.  For me what matters is that musicians are being creative, open-minded, and willing to show a bit of themselves and their interests in their performances.  I think it's also important to see what's going on out there so that the many stories about the more dire situations in the classical music world don't overshadow the creative work that is in fact being done.

Today I'm going to start with videos.  Here are some that I find to be exciting, each for their own reasons.  So please, sit back and enjoy and if your mind starts buzzing because of some of it, fabulous!

First up is a video of the Anderson and Roe piano duo. This team is made up of two young and very fine pianists, each in their own right. What I love about them is their infectious love of performing and of being creative. They don't seem to have any problem trying their hand at a little acting, especially when it comes to their videos. Perhaps some will feel they go overboard but it doesn't bother me, especially since I know they have times when they just let the music speak for itself too. All of their videos are fabulous and definitely unique but I think it's important to let you know that Greg puts the videos together himself - pretty incredible. . This particular one is more of an overview so do check out their others. And if you ever get a chance to see them live, do it!

Along the same lines of the Anderson and Roe style of video, violinist Janine Jansen has appeared in a classical video playing Fauré's Après un Rêve. It's magical to me which is exactly what music is all about in my book.

The next video is a collaboration between musician, choreographer, dancer, and cinematographer. Cellist Pieter Wispelwey performs a Bach cello suite that is accompanied by storyline portrayed through dance. What I love about this especially is how the the musician is not just a musician in this interpretation. He crosses over into the drama in a fascinating way. If this is interesting to you, there are two other videos that make up the entire cello suite.

One of my favorite pieces, Vivaldi's Four Seasons is up next but it's not like I'd ever seen it before. The Academy for Ancient Music in Berlin, put together a very unique performance of this famous work, combining choreography for everyone involved in the ensemble along with the music . When I watch this video I marvel at the willingness and flexibility of the musicians to do something like this. I know, I know, they're being paid, but I still respect that they pulled it off, at least in my book. I'm not sure if I could do as well with such a project but I love it. There are videos on youtube for all of the movements so if they are to your liking, do check them out. This particular one is my favorite.

Here is a recent video that was just put up on youtube on April 11 of this year. Yo-Yo Ma, a musician who is always trying new things it seems and has a great time doing it, performed "The Swan," accompanied by the young dancer, Lil Buck. It's a really interesting collaboration and one that was relatively spontaneous, I believe. It's that spontaneity that I particularly love. Two artists coming together and merging seemingly disparate styles of art in a way that can work.

And now for a hometown example. The cello teacher at Virginia Tech, Alan Weinstein, along with his trio, the Kandinsky Trio, put together a performance called "Kandinsky Trio Beat Down" in which the beatboxer Shodekeh and two hip hop dancers known as the Bugaloo Crew joined to create an evening that welcomed lots of new ears and eyes into the Kandinsky Trio's world. I recently saw this performance live and was thrilled to see such a wide variety of people in the audience. I was also greatly inspired by the dancers. I guess for me, dance adds another wonderful, welcome element into the mix.

To carry on the beatboxing combo with classical musicians, here is another great cello video of a beatboxing cellist, Kevin Olusola,  playing one of my favorite cello pieces. So incredibly fresh and fun!

Wow. How can I just stop here? There are so many more wonderful examples. Well at least this is a start.

Now what I want to do know is, "What's next?"

Plenty of wonderful stuff, I'm sure!  Let's keep creating!

If you liked this post, you may also like:
Keeping eyes, ears, and minds wide open
An Outside-the-Box Recital: "Poe-ism" at Virginia Tech

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Keeping eyes, ears, and minds wide open

Wire sculpture by Roger Comfoot,
from Wikimedia Commons
Greg Sandow, a noted writer on the topic of classical music and its hopeful and I think inevitable rebirth, recently wrote a post that he titled "Inspiration" in response to a comment that a Juilliard student made in a class that he teaches.  The comment indicated the student's, and most likely other students', concerns and discouragement about continuing on in the field, especially after incidents like the Philadelphia Orchestra's declaring bankruptcy.  I understand the concerns and frustration but it pains me to think that people actually think classical music might fade away.  I don't believe that's going to happen, especially if we all, young and old...
  • hold tight onto why we do what we do
  • not be shy about who we are and why we play the music that we do
  • keep our eyes, ears, and minds wide open
Inspiration in the classical music world abounds, especially in the world of twitter. 

Twitter?  I'm going to talk about twitter again?  

Sorry, but I simply can't not bring up twitter.

In spite of the the dire stories that I hear about orchestras struggling financially and audiences dwindling, I am amazed daily by what is really going on in the trenches and by what individuals and groups of musicians are doing to ensure that they can continue to do what they love to do.  Twitter is the one place I find all of this inspiration.  I have met so many musicians there that are dreaming, thinking, and trying new things.  Performers, teachers, conductors, composers, audience development and public relations experts...they're all on there.  And we're all talking, we're all sharing notes, we're all supporting one another.  I see videos on there daily that inspire, read articles about what's going on in the classical music world, have conversations with folks that get me thinking, see listings or reviews for interesting projects and presentations, and I meet many wonderful, innovative musicians and others that work or have an interest in the classical music field.

"But doesn't it take time to do this twitter thing?"

Well, yes.  But it doesn't have to.  On average, I might spend an hour a day on twitter and there are ways to organize your twitter time so that you're not simply reading tweets about folks making peanut-butter sandwiches for lunch; you can make sure that you really are only following people that feed your inspiration bucket; you can lurk more than you interact.  But I strongly feel that musicians, especially young ones,  who want hope and encouragement should investigate this platform and should consider interacting with others there so that our pool of ideas and inspiration can continue to grow and feed off one another.  

I've written some other posts about how to get started on twitter, but here is a list of folks I regularly draw ideas and hope from.  If you're interested in checking them out, just type in their name as seen below into the search box at the very top of the screen and hit return.  A list of tweets about him or her should pop up and then if you want to follow them, click on their user name to get their profile page and then select to follow that particular twitterer.  And my apologies, in advance, to anyone I've left out.  And if you're a twitterer reading this and have any other suggestions for folks to follow, please do mention them by leaving a comment.  

  • @MazzaClarinet - clarinetist living in Spain who has recently returned to her musical career after years in the business world.  She is re-starting her career in a fresh, unique, and completely unpretentious way and often tweets links to relevant websites, articles, and blog posts.
  • @JRhodesPianist - pianist from London who has anything but a traditional story and is wonderfully just himself, often performing in more untraditional venues, not wearing a tux, performing from I-pads and the like.  
  • @AllPiano - pianist who has a refreshing, innovative way of approaching teaching piano.  She is constantly seeking new ways to get her students excited about piano and about performing.  She is very sensitive to how students in the younger generation learn and respond to the world around them.
  • @EmergeAlready & @JadeSimmons - pianist that has two twitter profiles and that has been busy putting together live shows on the web that address issues of interest to performers, especially.  She is one of those musicians that is heading in the direction of presenting herself in her performances, not just the music she plays.
  • @RbClassical - public relations-type twitterer who is helping professional musicians reach 21st century audiences.  I get a lot of wonderful articles here.
  • @AudienceDevSpec - another public relations twitterer, although she takes a different angle and calls it herself an "Audience Development Specialist."  She posts tons of fabulous articles and links daily, inspires many wonderful conversations via twitter about the field, and is a wonderfully supportive individual.
  • @GCComposer - composer who also has a wonderful website called "Killing Classical Music."  An active conversationalist when it comes to new ideas in the classical music world.
  • @ProperDiscord - twitterer that has a gutsy but thought-provoking blog.  
  • @GSandow - writer and blogger about the classical music world.  
  • @mlaffs - public relations twitterer and blogger who often has keen insight into the field.
  • @ClassicalRev - an organization of musicians that meets and performs in more informal settings 
  • @waynemcevilly - pianist who has a heart for providing classical music to everyone in libraries, in orphanages, you name it.  
  • @igudesmanandjoo - pianist and violinist comedy team who put together hilarious shows that bring some light-heartedness and laughter to classical music
  • @andersonroe - piano duo team who are exceedingly talented and that bring a classy sexiness to the world of classical music.  They put together incredible videos that are self-produced and edited.  A good role-model for the younger generation.
  • @musicapologist - choir conductor who came to classical music later in life.  He has a wonderful blog and is constantly writing posts that challenge and inspire me as a musician that has always grown up with classical music.

So there's a start.  Please don't be discouraged until you've taken the time to take a look at these folks for a week or so.  It's well worth it!  And do stay posted to this blog.  I plan on putting up some wonderful examples of musicians, ensembles, and performances that I find to be particularly inspiring.

Other blog posts about using twitter as a musician:

Twitter is not just for the birds
What to do with this thing called Twitter
Making heads or tails out of Twitter

Friday, April 22, 2011

A wonderful poem about the undeniable value of accompanists

"Kreutzer Sonata" by Prinet,
from Wikimedia Commons
I am thankful to have just stumbled upon this wonderful poem, "The Accompanist," written by Dick Allen, Connecticut's current poet laureate.  It beautifully encapsulates what it is to be an accompanist or collaborator and it reminds me that even though our role can be overshadowed by those with whom we work, the work we do isn't invisible to all.  There is always someone in the audience that is aware of what goes into being a successful accompanist and that appreciates and values what we do on a daily basis.

I was so moved by Mr. Allen's poem that I e-mailed him to ask for permission to reprint his poem in its entirety here on my blog.  I also mentioned that if he had anything to say about the genesis of the poem, his connection to music, or anything else that struck him as being of interest, that I would love to include that along with his poem.  I got a wonderfully warm e-mail in return almost immediately. Here is what he had to say about "The Accompanist."  
Your coming across this poem was exactly what I'd hoped would happen to it: people (especially Accompanists and friends and relatives of Accompanists and other musicians that used Accompanists) would find it. 
I'd been thinking about writing a poem with this subject for most of my life.  But I finally began to draft it and write it a few days after friends gave my wife and me tickets to a concert at the Quick Center, Fairfield University, in Connecticut, where as I recall a particularly fine singer was accompanied by a particularly fine accompanist. 
And, of course, the poem has "wider" meaning for all of us who "accompany" others in many ways.  I'm thinking of how sometimes I'm the poet on stage and sometimes I'm the person who introduces the poet, has arranged the poetry reading, and the like.  As often as not, I'm just as pleased to be the accompanist host as the featured poet for a particular evening. 
And there is a real art in "stepping back" sometimes.  A real pride.  Sometimes we literally choose it (wide application: for instance, the parent who moves to the back of the auditorium while her child recites, the husband who takes a back seat--without rancor and with joy--while his wife is on stage as a noted politician...and on and on.) 
And all my life I have been indebted to music, my own work impossible without it.
The paragraph about "stepping back" really strikes a chord in me because I too feel "real pride" in what I do even though the role appears to be a "back seat" role.  The fact is, more often than not, were it not for fine accompanists and collaborators, musical performances would not be the magical events that they so often are.  They allow for performances that can breathe, move, and enchant.  

What a glorious job.

And without further ado, Dick Allen's poem:

The Accompanist 
I've always worried about you-the man or woman
at the piano bench,
night after night receiving only such applause
as the singer allows: a warm hand please,for my accompanist.  At concerts,
as I watch your fingers on the keys,
and how swiftly, how excellently
you turn sheet music pages,
track the singer's notes, cover the singer's flaws,
I worry about whole lifetimes,
most lifetimes
lived in the shadows of reflected fame;
but then the singer's voice dies
and there are just your last piano notes,
not resentful at all,
carrying us to the end, into those heartfelt cheers
that spring up in little patches from a thrilled audience
like sudden wildflowers bobbing in a rain
of steady clapping.  And I'm on my feet, also,
clapping and cheering for the singer, yes,
but, I think, partially likewise for you
half-turned toward us, balanced on your black bench,
modest, utterly well-rehearsed,
still playing the part you've made yours.

Many thanks to Dick Allen for his kind permission to reprint his poem here and for his thoughtful words.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Defying the silent accompanist image of old

Later I happened to appear next to her on the stage dozens of times, but I was not sure of how to bow, where to look, nor how many steps to walk behind her.  I glided, like a shadow, without looking at the audience.  I would take my seat keeping my eyes to the ground and then put my hands on the keyboard.
- From Nina Berberova's 1934 novel,  The Accompanist

From Wikimedia Commons
In the past, way in the past, accompanists, and that's what they were called way back then, were expected to simply follow the soloist in a prim and proper way, physically, psychologically, and musically. Not so any more, thank goodness.  Now pianists that choose to be collaborators, the updated word for "accompanist," have the freedom to also choose what type of collaborator they want to be.  Beyond just the standard question of who a pianist prefers or tends to collaborate with, there's also the question of how a pianist works in the rehearsal room itself and for me, my personal answer to that question has evolved over the years into something that I feel very comfortable with but that involves me as a pianist who is anything but silent.  

So when do I tend to speak up in a rehearsal situation?  When...
  • there are wrong notes or rhythms 
  • tempos that aren't working
  • I can't read the soloist's cues
  • no music is being made and it sounds like just a bunch of notes 
  • the soloist is obviously frustrated about a particular passage
  • the style in which the soloist is playing doesn't seem to match the style of the piece
  • the soloist mentions anything about needing to perform something "perfectly"
And why do I speak up?  

I have come to the conclusion that I do not want to become one of those pianists that falls into the trap of collaborating as if it is merely a job.  I fear that if that were to happen, performing would also turn into a job and performing, for me, is simply too magical an endeavor to throw down at the feet of banality.  So if I am accompanying someone and find myself drifting into a "here we go again" state of mind because of a lack of spark in the soloist, I feel like I owe it to myself, the person I'm playing with, and any future audience members to kick myself back into a convincing, energizing musical world.   I also speak up because I realize how little time teachers usually have with their students.  It amazes me how much material needs to be covered in lessons in order to get a musician ready for the necessary hoop-jumping and it seems virtually impossible for a teacher to catch everything, especially when the soloist is more often than not, playing for the teacher without the pianist there until right before a performance.  

Now do I do this with everyone I collaborate with?  

No, certainly not.  It depends on the person with whom I'm working, the situation, and how long I've been working with him or her.  If it's a student, it can also depend on who their teacher is.  But as I've gained experience (in other words, gotten older) I've gotten more and more bold, in a gentle way of course, about offering my own opinions and ideas.  

On an ending note, I want to say emphatically that whenever I choose to speak up in a rehearsal situation, I make sure I do it with respect for the soloist and their teacher and with the best of manners.   To me it feels a bit like combining the best of both worlds - the old style accompanist, with their quiet but supportive spirit, with the more contemporary translation of collaborator.  

I recently had a rehearsal with a student that was new to me.  At the end of an hour long session, in which I talked quite a bit, he smiled and said, "Wow.  You're not like a normal accompanist.  You actually have opinions.  You actually talk."

Ha ha!  Perhaps a wee bit too much.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tapping into the video game world when practicing

Seriously?  Video games??

Well, why not?  Gaming is a huge industry these days and even though I'm not a big fan of this fact, I do get the appeal.  Video games can provide a stimulating escape and for those that are good at them, they provide frequent opportunities for success.  I've gone through many periods when I've been hooked on gaming, most recently right after having our daughter when I suddenly found myself with odd amounts of time on my hand that couldn't be taken up with playing the piano or cello - I couldn't possibly risk waking the baby!  

My mind was brought back to gaming after hearing about a discussion my husband had recently with one of his very talented voice students.  Post-recital, they were talking about what might be on her horizon after graduation.  She stated that she really didn't know, which is not such an unusual thing, but then when my husband asked her what was something that really excited her, what was something she would stay up late to do, she said, "Video games." 

Video games.  

At first, I was a bit saddened and I got that whole, "Ugh...the younger generation" attitude going.  But after thinking about it more, I got to wondering, "Well, is it really so surprising?" and that led me to, "Is there any way we could use the concepts behind gaming to help young musicians figure out how to practice? Which finally led me to one of my favorite games of all time, Tetris.

Image from Wikipedia Commons
In case you've never played it, Tetris is a game that involves different shaped pieces that  float down from the top of the screen.  The goal is to fit the pieces together in such a way as to fill an entire row. With a row's completion, it disappears and all the pieces above move down.  Fail to put the pieces together and complete rows and pieces simply pile up until the entire screen fills up - game over!

What does this have to do with practicing?

As with many video games, Tetris starts you off at a nice, slow pace, allowing the player to develop strategies, to get into a groove, to learn patterns, and then as he/she improves, the "tempo" of the game slowly accelerates.  If the game didn't work this way, I'm not so sure how many players would actually stick with it because it would be difficult to have much success, especially at first.  It's the same way when I practice.  If I can slow myself down enough from the beginning, success is pretty much assured.  Once I get going and I can work at with a sane state of mind, then and only then do I increase the tempo.

Part of the key to being successful in Tetris is learning how to spot patterns quickly and knowing what to do with them.  If I don't try to learn about the patterns while playing, and figure out how to quickly deal with how the different patterns interact with one another, I don't really have a strategy.  It's more like I am just randomly trying to deal with each individual piece which doesn't usually work very well and tends to tire me out very quickly.   In music, if I persistently approach each individual note as an individual note, learning a piece of music is like climbing Mt. Everest.  Each individual step is painful and taxing both mentally and physically.  

When I am truly playing the game, I succeed, and that, my friends, is addictive.  I've talked in another post about making practicing addictive but I don't think I can say it too many times.  There is something crazy but exhilarating about being addicted to practicing.  I'm sure there is something chemical involved just as there is when someone gets addicted to anything, bad or good, but I figure this particular addiction is a pretty safe one.  And it certainly makes practicing much more enjoyable and rewarding.  As I said in that other post, if I don't find practicing ego-boosting I need to change the way I'm practicing.  I think most video gamers would say the same thing.  Gamers would not keep banging their head up against a wall.  If they don't experience success, they either change what their strategies are, get advice from other gamers, or give up on the game altogether.  I'm not proposing anyone try the latter, but I'm all for the first two.  

So yes, video games.  As much as I have to suck up my increasing skepticism towards gaming technology, perhaps there is something to learn from this industry that seems to be transforming much of our society.  

What do we have to lose?

(I selected this post to be featured on Best Music Blogs. Please visit the site and vote for my blog!)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Never able to stay serious for long - Bach's E minor Prelude and Fugue

Painting by James Tissot, from
Wikimedia Commons
Yes.  It's been awhile, hasn't it?  It looks like I started this Bach Prelude and Fugue project about a year ago with the hopes of recording all 24 by this coming May.  Well, I may have to extend my deadline just a bit, but I'll forgive myself in the name of sanity.  In case you're new to my blog please feel free to read my opening post of this project, "I think I've finally lost it! Putting Bach's book 2 of the WTC on YouTube."  To sum it up, I'm doing this for my own well-being or because I'm insane and I don't have any intention for these recordings to be perfect.  I consider these "out-of-the-starting-gate" experiences so please consider yourself forewarned - there are plenty of mistakes but lots of heart!  Perhaps in twenty years I'll feel like I can actually perform them all.  

So Bach's E minor Prelude and Fugue.  Yet again, this set from the second book of his Well-Tempered Clavier, offers up another wonderful contrast to both the pianist and the listener.  The Prelude is, to my ears, a prim and proper pianistic prelude, energized by a constant stream of sixteenth-notes.  It is also chock full of the voices imitating one another in a very respectful way.

But the fugue...ah, the fugue...I find this fugue, in addition to being long and challenging (what's new?), to be really quite hilarious.  Take the subject that starts off the entire piece.  Within one very long subject we hear triplets, sixteenths, dotted rhythms.  It sneaks around in the most child-hearted way, layering the different rhythms on top of one another which at times sounds like laughing, at other times skipping.  All the while, however, the sinister mood of the prelude seems to lurk in the background;  it is reminiscent, perhaps, of a parental figure trying to remind his or her little ones that this is, after all, Bach.

To read and view more preludes and fugues from this project of mine, please see the list of links to them on the right-hand side of the webpage.  And keep in mind there are plenty more to come.  Just stay tuned!

Monday, April 11, 2011

A semi-professional amateur's résumé

Today I had to quickly come up with a one page résumé for myself.  It was painful.  Really painful, partly because I haven't had to write one in a while and partly because I feel like my musical life has taken a turn these past few years down a path that is not one that I ever envisioned or even knew existed.  I couldn't neatly fit my musical life into the template I was using as reference, which happened to be one that befits someone in academia.  I couldn't even really figure out what to call myself, in terms of a profession.  This is not to say that I am not proud of what I do and what I believe in...quite the opposite, really.  I just didn't know how to make it all neat, tidy, and self-explanatory within the confines of one piece of paper.  

In the end, I did come up with something.  But I'm not sure that it's a document that really says a whole lot about me.  It says something about my education, yes, and the most recent performances I've done, yes, but that's about it.  

So, in an effort to redeem myself, here's a second stab at it.  Here's hoping it actually represents me.  

Erica Ann Sipes: semi-professional amateur musician 
(because I make money, sometimes, doing what I love to do)

  • Fell in love with music at age 5 and asked to take piano lessons at that time
  • Studied with a lot of wonderful teachers growing up in San Francisco, CA
  • Played a lot of chamber music and participated in the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra - an incredible experience
  • Continued studies at the Eastman School of Music
  • Have been continuing my education through accompanying just about every instrument out there
  • Is our education ever really over?
Interests and Passions:
  • Playing music with people young and old, experienced and not experienced
  • Helping people learn more efficient ways to learn and practice music
  • Helping people find the joy that comes with sharing music with others in all sorts of performance situations
  • Helping people realize that perfection in performance is impossible (or a miracle) and very detrimental to one's musical and psychological health
  • Writing about music, making music, and the process of sharing music
  • Connecting with other like-minded musicians and brainstorming about ways we can make music accessible to all
  • Sharing music, not for the purpose of making money, but for the purpose of sharing a part of myself and great music
Musical Highlights:
  • Playing with a violinist for her first Suzuki book recital, to a church full of people in a country community that rarely, if ever, hear classical music being played
  • Playing with young children and witnessing for the first time, their realization that music can be fun and that there is a unique artistic voice within each of them
  • Performing all of Schubert's song cycle, "Winterreise" with a wonderful baritone and having the time to explore each and every song
  • Trying out new formats for song recitals with my dear husband and baritone, Tadd Sipes, and watching the audience's reactions to something new
  • Breaking out of my comfort zone and performing Beethoven's 3rd Piano Concerto with Virginia Tech's orchestra, the New River Valley Symphony Orchestra
  • Playing one of the piano parts in Orff's "Carmina Burana"with the Roanoke Symphony - now that is exhilarating! 
  • Performing at our local retirement community and building relationships with the residents there - they are some of my most faithful, supportive fans
  • Playing piano at our church during services and experiencing the synergy that comes with such an interaction between musician and audience
  • Playing chamber music on a regular basis, with other amateurs and professionals in the community
Updated 5/23/2020
  • Co-founding the Alma Ensemblewith the desire to find and perform music written women through the ages and to also perform in ways that inspire community and dialogue
  • Live-streaming practice sessions and sight reading sessions regularly to help others see inside those processes
  • Helping musicians at all ages and stages feel good where they are and helping them improve whatever it is they want to improve, even if their music making is just for them.

There you have it!

I feel much better now.  Too bad this isn't the résumé I could submit.  Sigh...

Maybe in another 25 years.

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