Diary of a Return by Teresa Dybvig: week 1, day 1

TD2 (1)

Editor’s Note:  This diary entry is the first in a series of entries describing Teresa Dybvig’s strategies for preparing for an upcoming recital after a long break  from performing. Keep posted for further installments.  For more about The Well-Balanced Pianist, click on this link:  http://www.wellbalancedpianist.com/


Monday, September 15

I start the day with a pajama run-through.  Without coffee, morning stretches, or warm-up, I pad to the piano, turn on my recording device, sit down, and play through ten minutes of music that I will perform on Wednesday morning for my local Music Performers Club.  First is Debussy’s Danseuses de Delphes, then the 3rd and 4th movements of Beethoven’s “Pastorale” sonata, Opus 28.  Just in case there is extra time at the meeting, I also run through Voiles, the second prelude from the first book.  Yes, this is a motley combination of pieces, but it fits within the 10-minute limit imposed (for sanity’s sake) by the club, and they are all pieces that could use a hearing.  Both Debussy are relatively new, just learned and memorized a few weeks ago.  The Beethoven is, well … Beethoven.  Not for wimps!  The broken octaves in the trio section of the scherzo have been consuming a lot of my practice time, and there is a lot of action in the 4th movement as well.


I learned about the pajama run-through in performance coach Dr. Don Greene’s book, Performance Success, the title of which says it all.  And before I go on, I must emphasize the undignified term “pajama run-through” is my own, not Dr. Greene’s.  The pajama run-through (I can’t stop myself) is one of the activities in his 21-day countdown to a performance.  He suggests doing it with the first piece in your program.  However!  Upon doing it with my first piece that first time, I felt so empowered that I continued doing pajama run-throughs with the whole rest of the program, even Schumann’s sprawling Humoreske.  When I completed playing them all without preamble, I felt that if my plane were late, and the taxi broke down, and I had to run several blocks in the rain to the hall, and had no time to do anything but change into my stockings and dress shoes, I could still walk out on stage and play that recital.  Ever since that first empowering experience, I have always done a pajama run-through of every piece I performed.  I recommend it to my students too.  I use and recommend variations as well: play through when you’re tired, when you are happy, when you’re angry, when you have a cold.  It’s great to know you can play a piece under any condition.


After coffee, breakfast, and some yoga and Feldenkrais, I listen to the recording.  Not bad!  I would feel okay if I played like this on Wednesday.  It’s not as I wish, though.  The Debussy suffers from little breaks in the flow, no doubt as they were so recently memorized.  My failure to move ahead quickly enough in a couple of places in both the Scherzo and the Rondo resulted in some note errors.  Most mortifyingly, I over-pedaled the Rondo.  My students know very well how I feel about this.  Pedal as a blurred sound effect should not happen by accident.  The last movement of the Pastorale is not an appropriate place for it.


So, it’s mental practice for me.  I get those Debussy preludes to flow, practice moving ahead and listening ahead all the way through the Beethoven, and clear up that pedal!  I return to the piano and am satisfied with the results.  I reward myself with a swim in the Long Island Sound before going on to the rest of my day.


I am not just practicing to play at the Performers Club, although that alone would be a reasonable goal.  At this point, I am practicing for a house concert for a few friends, as a next step in my return to performing.  I had a few hard years during which I hardly practiced, having energy only for teaching and sleep.  I’ve been rebuilding my performance gumption as my energy returns.  Except for 13 minutes at a Performer’s Club event, I haven’t played a public solo performance in something like five years.


I don’t feel like I can call this a “Comeback.” That would imply a serious Performing Career back when.  It was more a career with a small “c”.  Still, I played several solo recitals a year.


I have played solo recitals since I was thirteen years old.  I have other roles in life, but performing seems like part of who I am.  I have missed it.  So I am working to return.


Teresa Dybvig is founder and director of The Well-Balanced Pianist, an organization which presents programs across North America based on an integrated approach to teaching, learning, and performing. Previously on the faculty of the Taubman and Golandsky Institutes, Dr. Dybvig now teaches privately in Long Island, Manhattan, Chicago, and Denver. She specializes in helping pianists with playing-related injuries.   


4 thoughts on “Diary of a Return by Teresa Dybvig: week 1, day 1

  1. Thank you for this interesting article. So many helpful resources and strategies! As I prepare for an upcoming performance, this article is so timely and useful.

  2. What I most learned from the experience was that I needed to be extremely detailed. Any time I was vague in my script was an indication of vagueness of thought and it showed up in the performance.

  3. I am a HUGE fan of cardio practice. It really prepares me to handle the effects of the adrenaline rush that inevitably occurs during a performance. I played at a family member’s wedding over the summer and part of my preparation was to do my work out then rush over to the piano and make beautiful music with shaky hands, short breaths, and a pounding heart. When the big day came, so did the shaky hands and pounding heart (oh, and the flushed face!) but I wasn’t thrown off because I had played in that condition several times in the previous weeks. It was great! Instead of focusing on keeping myself cool, I was able to look around and communicate with the wedding party to keep the music in time with the events. Everything turned out nicely and I was rewarded with lots of delicious chocolate.

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