Editor’s Note: This diary entry is the thirty-eighth 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 an index of resources for performance preparation. For more about The Well-Balanced Pianist, click on this link: http://www.wellbalancedpianist.com/
Sunday, November 9: the recital!
Today, I woke up and smiled – as planned, in my performance script! Following the script, I also ate a tasty breakfast with my husband, did some Yoga and Feldenkrais, and meditated. I ironed my jacket and did some reception preparation in the kitchen. I read my performance script.
The only practicing I did was to spend about a half hour reviewing some technical spots in the morning, and then my starts before the recital. Right before a recital, I start every piece, beginning with the piece at the end of the recital and ending with the first piece I will play. Before each start, I remind myself of my performance goals, release my arms to connect to the piano, and then listen to the sound of the opening of the piece, and feel the pulse. I practice taking as long as I need to connect to the piano, listen to the sound of the opening, and feel the pulse. I know from experience that this never takes as long as I think, and it sets me up to start each piece in character right from the first note.
Since the recital was at my house, I interacted with people a lot before the recital. Ever since the first time I wrote into a performance script that I would be present with everyone I spoke to, I’ve been fine talking to people before a performance. I retreated to my bedroom to breathe and do some power poses a few minutes before the start time.
Finally, my husband welcomed everyone, and I walked into the studio and started playing! I was so ready! I was pretty excited when I started my first Debussy set. I made a little slip in the third line of the first piece, and merrily thought, “OK, that’s the first slip I’m accepting!” That was silly, so I quickly decided not to keep a tally and to return to the music. I noticed other slips throughout the recital (they didn’t exactly abound, but they certainly did exist!), but I didn’t waste brain space on them. Therefore, I can say that I fulfilled two of my pledges to myself: to accept all slips, and to commit to the music.
Right before I went out to play, I told myself something I have told myself many times: “love the music, love the listener”. However, since I have been known to tell myself that and then proceed to ignore it when faced with shaking hands and little disappointments, this time I said to myself “seriously, love the music, love the listener”. The only way I have of loving the listener is to maintain a positive feeling towards the audience. When it comes to the music, I have more choices. I can love the music by appreciating it and constantly listening – the degree of challenge or even momentary disappointments regardless.
I did it. I loved the music all the way through, every prelude, every movement. As a matter fact, my favorite comment afterwards came from a friend who said she felt me love the music all the way through, and that the audience sent love back to me in return. Of course, I hand-picked my audience so it would be filled with loving and supportive people, and just in case, I manipulated them to be loving and supportive! (I told them that for this re-entry into performing, I was inviting them to a house concert for people who would support me even if I played a lousy concert that day). Therefore, when a friend who is a fabulous musician said to me afterwards, “You are such an artist, and you really know what you need to do to bring a program together,” I pointed out that she was biased. She agreed! Then she countered that her bias did not change what she heard. And you know what? I can accept that! Honestly, I have yet to listen attentively to the whole recital, but between the way I felt when I was playing and people’s comments, I think it went really well.
I will just tell you a couple more comments that thrilled me, and then I will stop crowing. One thrill was when a friend who planned to attend only the first half of my recital (so she could attend another local recital) said my playing was so beautiful that she couldn’t bear to go. She stayed for the second half, and the reception too! Another thrill came from a comment reported by the mother of a teenage boy. These people are great friends, but the boy had been sick all week, and was tired out from events earlier in the day. She told him she would not make him come to the recital, but that he would want to be there (she’s a great mom). At the end of the first half, she said he turned to her to say, “Mom, this is soooo good!” He is a talented musician himself, so this is high praise, especially considering his situation.
I was thrilled that people loved the Janáček. Many people commented on how emotional and passionate the set was, and how beautiful. One friend told me it sounded like I used a different piano for each composer – since he definitely doesn’t know how much of my brain space is taken with sound quality, this was another thrill. Finally, I’ll tell you that a friend who is a beautiful musician herself compared my Beethoven favorably to Richard Goode’s recording. !! Talk about a thrill. But don’t worry about her taste; she assured me that she still likes Richard Goode’s recording.
In short, I believe I did what I set out to do, and probably even more. I performed eighty minutes of music at a high level, in a happy and open state of mind. It wasn’t by chance. I prepared to play the music well, and to enjoy the experience. Tomorrow I’ll reflect on everything that contributed to this performance. For now, I’m just glad it wasn’t just a happy accident. That means I can make it happen again!
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.