As we approach recital season and prepare for the upcoming performance in October, I’m sure many of you wonder why I arrange for so many recitals. In reality, I wish I could do more!
I arrange for many performances because learning to perform well is skill that needs to be developed and refined over time and, like any skill, takes practice. LOTS of practice. It’s no different from learning how to hold the bow. It can be challenging at first as well as scary and stressful but the more often we do it, the easier it becomes, to the point where getting up in front of an audience is no big deal. Performing once or twice a year isn’t sufficient to achieve that level of comfort with performing – it doesn’t give young performers an opportunity to practice and hone performance skills and especially doesn’t allow frequent enough opportunities to overcome any performance anxiety. By providing multiple performance opportunities, I hope to alleviate or avoid performance anxiety as well as develop confidence from many repeated positive experiences. Whether it’s a performance in a local park, in group class or in a formal setting with a pianist, every performance offers students the chance to practice their ability to get in front of a live audience and perform to the best of their ability.
In addition, performing often takes the pressure off the performance situation. When a student of any levels on gives one or two performances a year, the stakes are high! It has to be perfect! This is the only chance to do it! But when there are many opportunities, a mistake in one performance isn’t detrimental – there will be multiple opportunities to even perform the same piece.
Performing an old piece (not the student’s current piece) also ensures a successful performing experience. When selecting a piece for a performance, my rule is that students can choose the piece but it must be at least three pieces behind their current piece in the Suzuki books. For example, if your child is currently learning Allegro, that is NOT an eligible piece. The first piece they are allowed to perform is Go Tell Aunt Rhody. Pieces that are suitable choices in addition to being three pieces back are also indicative of:
-very few, if any memory problems
-correct bow directions
-good, resonant tone
-the student is comfortable with the piece
-it seems easy to play
Performing is not about proving you can play the piece. Rather, performing is about sharing beautiful music with an audience. Therefore, performing isn’t limited to playing a piece – it also involves stage presence, smiling, confidence and self-presentation. When performers are overwhelmed with the technical aspects of the piece, the overall presentation of the piece, the musicality, stage-presence and confidence, and joy of performing go out the window!
Even professional musicians never perform a ‘new’ piece. When Yo-Yo Ma performs, he’s playing a piece he’s been working on and performing on a regular basis for many, many months, and often times years. Not days or weeks. Just like our food, our pieces need to be ‘cooked’ and ‘well seasoned’. Only time and many repetitions achieve this outcome.
Ultimately, the goal of every performance is for every student to have a successful and positive experience. Performing frequently in addition to performing a well-prepared piece ensures this positive experience. Performing for an audience doesn’t need to be a harrowing experience! In fact, sharing the beautiful music that results from all the hard work and preparation with an audience should be a joyful and fun experience.