Editor’s Note: This diary entry is the second 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/
Tuesday, September 16
Today, my husband listened to me run through my music for tomorrow. This time, I went so far as to eat breakfast and warm up first! Somehow, playing for my even my husband feels like having a real audience, when he sits quietly in a chair facing the piano. And although he would tell you he knows nothing about music, he always hears the overall message of a performance. Today he reported that the Debussy was mysterious, the Scherzo was happy, and the Rondo was lively. From my end, the Rondo was mysterious – because I had such trouble concentrating. My thoughts ranged over upcoming meals, friends I want to be in touch with, how to help a student reach a goal – anything but the Rondo. The results were predictable. Still, when I listened to the recording, I was pleased to note that my lack of concentration was only audible once or twice. Moreover, the pedal was fine! The little hesitations in the Debussy were ironed out, and I liked the sounds I was getting.
It’s comforting to know that practicing works.
To improve my concentration, I use a technique that James Tocco taught me when I was in grad school. I call it “looking/listening/planning-ahead practice”. I put the music on the music stand and look one measure ahead, planning how that measure will sound and feel, while simultaneously playing the previous measure just the way I want. The tempo needs to be slow enough that I can play just the way I want, but fast enough that it still feels like music.
The rest of my piano time is devoted to mental practice and tweaking my “performance script”. I learned how to do a performance script from Dr. Bill Moore’s 3-book series, Playing Your Best When It Counts. For the performance script, I use his High Performance Journal. Some of my students have made major breakthroughs in performing just by writing performance scripts. Dr. Moore suggests we start with the beginning of the day, and work right up to a strong finish of the last piece. So much of this is good for me. One part of my plan for tomorrow is to be very present with everyone I see when I get to the meeting, and continue to be present with every performer and the music they play before it is my turn. Being in the moment in this way is invaluable for me in keeping calm in mind and body. I also plan what sounds I will try out on the piano before the meeting starts. The sostenuto pedal is risky on an unfamiliar piano, and I also want to try some of the pp and ppp sound effects and see what I need to do for them to come out. Having written a list of places to try, I will remember them no matter how scattered my mind.
Before I put the script away, I decide to add one more item to my list of goals for the performance: instant forgiveness. This is my best way of letting go of playing anything that doesn’t go the way I want, and moving on. I am not always the master of instant forgiveness. It can’t hurt to include it in the script.
My greedy secret is that I don’t want to just return to performance. I want to perform more happily. My life is so full of good things that tension and anxiety around performance is now too dissonant to tolerate. The performance script is just one way I’m working toward that goal.
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.