We see a performer, we really are seeing only 70-80% of their true capacity, or at least that’s what I used to believe. While I still find this gap to exist, I recently changed my approach to reaching my true potential.
My newest belief is one of becoming more accustom to the act of performing. If we spend most of our time practicing in front of a crowd, the problem in realizing our full capacity through over-prepardness diminishes. Certain individuals thrive in a live performance, a select few meltdown from nerves, and most of us are somewhere in the middle, where a combination of the elements (preparation, nerves, etc) create the outcome of a performance.
An example: Imagine you have just learned a brand new piece, a Bach fugue perhaps? You wish to play this piece live, but always feel underprepared, therefore delaying the performance. The catch 22 here is that a big part of the growth process is the performance experience; the more you perform the piece, the better it will become. Not to say don’t practice, but when the you reach the level of diminishing returns for a piece, it’s time to schedule a performance. From that performance, you will discover new aspects of the piece that need work, and therefore restarting the preparation process.
My previous method consisted of preparing material beyond 100%, which requires an extreme amount of practice. In an article I wrote a year ago, ‘The Zone,’ I touched briefly upon the concept of constantly raising the bar, as opposed to bridging the gap. What I propose is that both are possible; Set goals higher and higher, while making the actual ‘buffer zone’ between that bar and what I will call performance readiness, much smaller.
It seems funny to think of musicians having an off-season, much like professional athletes, but nowadays, aspiring musicians adhere to the academic school year, which yield, at least in the United States, about three months of vacation.
I usually operate under the odd paradox of completing less…
Now seems like an appropriate time to remind myself of the points mentioned in this article. It’s always so hard to keep the ball rolling when summertime starts.
I know that even a small amount a day over the over the course of three months would make a big difference.
It really all boils down to:
- A form of motivation
All three combined really help keep the process inline. I highly recommend setting goals, and then keeping the daily routine aiming towards their completion.
This past week, I had the privilege of performing a four-hand arrangement of Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms (with Ron Stabinsky); if you are familiar with the piece, it certainly is quite a feat to perform. Immediately before the concert I was a bit trepidatious about the third movement but thankfully the concert went well.
From this experience, I have taken several lessons, including one musically life-changing moment.
Trust your instincts
- The third movement of Psalms, among its tricky middle section, has an ethereal ending, and because of it’s slow tempo, it is very hard to line up rhythmically. In this scenario, where I have many notes to worry about, passages to play, a conductor to follow, a choir to listen too, and another pianist, it’s very easy to start the game of second-guessing. I noticed, simply, that if I follow my instincts, better moments occur, and the opposite for thinking too much.
- During the performance, I realized one simple truth: Trust my instincts.
Rhythm; The Pocket
- Over the course of the week, I slowly started to understand the concept of ‘The Pocket.’ Succinctly, it refers to the placement of notes within a beat; Rhythm is not duration.
- I innately understood ‘The Pocket,’ but now I have an idea of how to intentionally apply throughout genres, whereas before I utilized it from the jazz/improv approach. It sounds simple, and actually is, but I’m afraid that text won’t serve this idea justice; I will explain further in a later post.
- Forget the pitches; feeling the rhythm and the correct placement of the notes matters much more.
Listening and Adapting
- Although everything ended well, I found myself feeling under-qualified for this concert. I can list several reasons why, the main ones include: Not enough rehearsal time and not enough preparation. Immediately before the concert, Ron consoled me with sage advice on the matter, “It always boils down to listening to what you hear, and adapting to it.”
- This idea goes hand in hand with The Pocket, and trusting your instincts. Choir seems to be dragging? Try you best to line up with them, while keeping them in beat. Explosive dynamics? See what you can do to aid them. I won’t list every scenario, but that’s the basic concept.
During a performance anything can happen, and instead of being apologetic for errors, take a chance to forget perfection. Don’t apologize if you let go of your reservations, and play without a filter- it will sound much better in the end. In this scenario, a failure might actually be received better than a success.