Recital preparation

A few of my students have had recitals or other solo performances recently. Besides musical preparation, this is the advice I give:

Visualize. If possible, spend time in the performance space before performance day. If not, imagine up a good representation of what the space is likely to look and “feel” like. Mentally walk through the entire performance, from your arrival at the venue to your departure. Include every detail you can, no matter how mundane. In your mind’s eye, see yourself entering the stage, taking a tuning note, making a reed adjustment, waiting for the audience to fall silent. Audiate the whole performance the way you want it to sound. Hear the last note reverberating in the hall, then see yourself taking a bow and leaving the stage.

I find this valuable because everything feels familiar on the night of the performance. Even if I get some of the details wrong or leave something out, I can deal with those things as minor glitches in an otherwise controlled experience, rather than seeing them as part of a flood of unanticipated events. It also gives me a chance to think through any logistical issues; I take notes and make a to-do list while I do this exercise.

Warm up intelligently. I like to keep practicing to a minimum on performance day when possible. It’s not likely that I will make significant improvements in my preparation at that point, and I want my mind clear and body rested. If I have an evening recital, I typically do a leisurely warmup in the morning and make semi-final reed decisions. I focus the warmup on tone production and tension-free technique.

I practice the performance repertoire as little as possible on recital day. If there are difficult technical passages that I am worried about, I make a point of not trying to play them up to tempo, but instead run through them in a very slow and controlled way, focusing on tone and expression. That keeps my final practicing positive and constructive, rather than causing me stress about potential failures.

Have a good, normal day. I don’t want to depend on recital day rituals or superstitions, but I do want to be in a good mood. I don’t eat a special breakfast, but I eat something that is a favorite among my typical breakfasts. I don’t wear new clothes, but I wear something that I feel good in. I don’t take the day off work, but I do carve out a non-working lunch hour. Small, ordinary pleasures are the order of the day.

I find that if I make too big a deal of performance day, I overthink and attach unwarranted weight to the event. Keeping things good but normal makes performing less stressful.

I would be curious to hear your advice for performance preparation (besides the hours of practice). Please share in the comments section if you feel inclined.


3 responses to “Recital preparation”

  1. Jonathan Avatar

    And for me, if it’s an evening performance, I always like to take a nap in the mid afternoon. I find that it helps me stay more alert and I’m less likely to make a few slips.

  2. The elder Dr P Avatar
    The elder Dr P

    Great ideas. I’m going to copy your advice and alter it slightly for my students who participate in sales competitions (no reed selection for them).

  3. I always do best on a full stomach, so I try to arrange a reliably healthy, filling meal a couple of hours before showtime. Others I’ve met only eat afterwards, but that approach leaves me a little spacy on stage. To each his (or her) own.

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