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.
I’m pleased to share some audio from my Delta State University faculty recital a few weeks ago.The big event of the evening was the premiere of Sy Brandon’s Divertissement for multiple woodwinds and piano, which seemed to be well received. It’s gratifying to be involved in the creation of a piece that fills a gap in the small multiple woodwinds repertoire—something than can be played by a woodwind doubler, without having to bring in a concert band, a truckload of electronics, or obscure instruments. The audience seemed to enjoy the derring-do of the final movement, which involves six instruments.
I’ve studied the Bonneau Caprice en forme de valse in the past and have had students perform it, but this was the first time I played it in public myself. Since I’m trying to balance a half-dozen or more instruments, I tend to shy away from pieces that seem too technical, and, in that respect, this was the riskiest piece on the program. I was mostly pleased with how it turned out.
Bonneau: Caprice en forme de valse (alto saxophone)
I’m pleased to share some audio clips from my recent faculty recital at Delta State University.
It was the first evening concert of the new semester, so a nice crowd of students came to start accumulating their recital attendance points, as well as colleagues, friends, and community members. No one seemed daunted by the prospect of a solid hour of Debussy.
I enjoyed playing the flute Syrinx, clarinet Première Rapsodie, and saxophone Rapsodie, all of which I had studied in school but never performed publicly. The brief and charming clarinet Petite Pièce was new to me, and seemed to be a crowd favorite. I rounded out the recital with some of Debussy’s piano works, arranged for oboe and piano and for bassoon and piano. It works well for me to play all of the reed instruments on a recital, because that gives all my reed-playing students something to sink their teeth into, and the fabulous Dr. Shelley Collins was very gracious about me playing a flute piece on her turf. You can read my program notes here.
Having learned a couple of things from the last recital, I warmed up a little more extensively this time, and also brought in a space heater to keep my instruments warm backstage in the icy air conditioning. Both of these things seemed to help make the evening go more smoothly. One new experiment for me was the use of a bassoon harness, so I played that instrument standing up for the first time in public.
At this point it’s gotten hard for me to imagine doing a full recital on a single instrument. I enjoy getting to play several, and audiences seem to enjoy the variety. And since this was my first faculty recital at my new gig, I wanted each of my students to hear me perform something from the core repertoire of their instrument.
I would like, ultimately, to be able to put together a full recital of woodwind pieces without making any special concessions for the fact that I am playing multiple instruments. In this case I did play it a little on the safe side: I chose a program that was not overwhelmingly technical, and I programmed something short of an hour’s worth of music so that I could take a few extra minutes between pieces.
One note-to-self for next time: I experienced a few onstage symptoms of not being thoroughly warmed up on each instrument (water in oboe toneholes, low note response issues on bassoon). I purposefully avoided playing too much on the day of the recital, but I think I can find a better balance the next time around. Continue reading “New sound clips: Faculty woodwinds recital, Feb. 15, 2010”→