By Penny Wayne-Shapiro
Many schools and teachers hold recitals at this time of year. For all those of you who have a performance approaching, here are some tips to help you walk out confidently, knowing that you're ready to give a strong and secure performance.
1) Of course, make sure you practice well. Follow your teacher's advice about slow practice, using the metronome, how to clear up tricky passages, and listening to your recording. Conscientious preparation will not just give you the best physical control of your piece, but will also help you to know, "I've done everything I can to get ready," and to give yourself a pat on the back for that.
2) Practice performing. This is not practicing your notes, but "running the performance" multiple times before the event itself. Although it's great if someone is available to watch you, you can just as well do a practice performance for the family dog, or even an audience of stuffed animals or basketballs! Here is how my students do this, in their lessons and at home:
Walk up (carrying instrument and music) with a smile, and give a nice deep bow.
Place the music on the stand; prepare your instrument and hands.
Hear the beginning of the piece in your head; give a breath cue (this is both for yourself and for the accompanist, if there will be one), and start.
Play through as best you can - no stopping for mistakes, or "advertising" them with a frown! Bow again, and walk off.
By the time you've been doing these performances several times a day for a week or two, the recital will be "just another one". Even if you feel anxious or something unexpected happens (a door slams, or someone sneezes right in front of you), you will keep right on going because you've run the sequence many times before.
3) Learn from these practice performances. I ask my students to find three things they liked about their performance, and three things they'd like to improve. These things may be general: "I played all the rhythms right," or "My loud passages should be louder," - or specific: "I missed the high G in measure 17," or "My trill was nice and clean." This is process of self-evaluation is very important, as it'll help you to use your practice time efficiently.
4) Remember that the goal is NOT perfection, but sharing the joy of music. Audiences are there to enjoy young people making music! They are not there to mark it like an exam. Although you and your teacher are familiar with the details of the piece, the audience is not, and no-one will begrudge you the occasional wrong note or missed rest. In fact, those small errors will go unnoticed if you have prepared well, and play your piece with enjoyment and spirit.
Parents, your attitude is a big factor here! Yes, in our lessons and practice we are always working to improve - but when students actually give a performance, whether at home or in public, please make sure you are encouraging them to do the best they can with what they've got right now, rather than criticizing them for "messing up" or not "getting it right"!
5) Take the focus off yourself and find a person in the audience who looks like he or she needs your music. At WSM we play our recitals at the local senior residence, where quite a few of the audience members are medically fragile or lonely. For many, this will be the highlight of their day or week. There will always be someone in the audience who needs the comfort of your beautiful music. As you walk up to play, focus on the gift you are giving and you are sure to play well!
6) Try re-framing "nerves" (if you're feeling them) as "energy" or "excitement". Although that adrenaline may feel uncomfortable, don't run away from that feeling - take a deep breath and use it to your advantage. Riding that wave of extra energy can actually result in your very best performances - the ones with with that extra bit of "zing" that really excites an audience!
7) Don't compare yourself to others. Some students have been playing longer than others. Some are serious about music and practice an hour or more every day, while others are competitive swimmers and spend much of their after-school time at the pool. Some have a musical parent at home who can help them with practice and some do not. As long as you have prepared to the best of your ability with the time and resources you have available, you can feel proud of yourself.
8) Give yourself a pat on the back - no matter how it goes! Preparing for a performance, and then actually getting up and doing it, is rewarding but also challenging. Congratulate yourself for accepting the challenge and doing the hard work involved. That work is never wasted. Ask your teachers - even as professionals, we have all had performances we're proud of and others we'd rather forget! As long as you grow from all your performances, you're heading in the right direction. Do the best you can with what you've got, and then enjoy relaxing after the concert - you've earned it!
You can read more about Wayland School of Music recitals here: Recitals
Videos of a few recent recital performances can be seen here: Videos
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