PIANO blog: Great(er or lesser) Expectations

Happy New Year everyone! 

Spring is always a BIG recital season for the collaborative pianist (and for her students....wink wink). I thought it right to start off 2018 with a bang-up post about performance expectations for recitals.

Happy 2018!

Happy 2018!

I was talking with James Cline, my aT/dC partner in crime, the other day about playing at home versus playing somewhere else. That "somewhere else" could be a public performance or even just in front of your teacher.

Have you ever been happy with your performance in front of your teacher? or at a recital? Though I've been happy with some recital performances, I for one have NEVER(!!!) been able to play my best front of my teachers in lessons. Even in grad school. Why is this?

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I will hazard a guess and say we create a false, unhealthy expectation that we CAN replicate our "at home" performances in front of others. Home is a familiar place, a place where you control most (if not all) of the variables, and it is a place where you know what to expect.

Add another person watching you play, or take performing out in public and suddenly, there are a lot more unknown variables. The temperature of the room, the brightness/dimness of the lights, the feel of the air. Not to mention unanticipated conversations or visual distractions. The presence of people that aren't usually in your home. The time of day may be different than when you're used to practicing. If you're a pianist, the stage piano itself is a whole set of unknown variables. And......you are probably not as relaxed as you are at home. This means that your muscles are not going to fire as normal...and your fine motor control will probably feel off. (And SURPRISE! We musicians depend on our fine-motor muscles).

I think we'd be a lot happier if we let go of duplicating our at-home product in public. Playing at home and performing in front of people are two different animals. Practicing is safe. Performing is NOT safe. It involves taking a BIG risk in front of others. And the bigger our expectations of ourselves, the harder this risk becomes.

What if we took an EVEN BIGGER risk and expected our performance to be NOTHING LIKE any run-throughs we've done before? What if we said to ourselves, "I have no idea how this is going to go....and I am ok with that."  What if we said, "I know I have done my best to prepare, and now it's time to trust and enjoy. Whatever happens I can handle." 

Additionally, what if we saw public performance as an opportunity, a learning experience? A way to illuminate places or techniques we need to study more in depth ("...yeah, I thought I knew that part....")? To really test our ability to stay grounded/focus/in control of our instrument under pressure?

If we truly cared about our growth as musicians, we'd welcome the mistakes, the slips, the unexpected fumbles that may occur during performance. (And celebrate our recovery from them). Ugly as they may be, they are our teachers, our guides. And if we listen to them, we will only get better. 

We experience our biggest inner growth when we step outside of our comfort zones....and this includes performing. Instead of being so hard on ourselves, we could choose to celebrate our bravery, our courage to get on stage in the first place. And look forward to the performance with the certainty that no matter what happens, we will become better. Besides, everyone benefits from live performance: the audience experiences the beauty of your efforts, and you become a stronger musician and performer. And the music gets played! 

(Warning....strong language in the cartoon that follows. It was too good to pass up. We could probably all use some attitude.)

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I am always happy to hear your thoughts! Do you have any suggestions for future posts?

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