Editor’s Note: This diary entry is the twentieth 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, October 15: “site visit,” slow practice with music, performance script
Some interesting activities are on the agenda for today that don’t include making sounds on the piano.
First, a mental “site visit”. The site visit is one of the activities Don Greene describes in Performance Success. For the site visit, you don’t just go to the place where you will perform and try out the piano. No, you engage in a curious exercise. (Before I go on, I should say that I am recounting this as I remember it, but I last read it quite a while ago. Memory being what it is, if you want to know exactly how Don Greene describes the site visit, you need to read what he says himself!). Disclaimers aside, this is the curious exercise: you go to the back of the hall, take a seat, and imagine the music going just the way you want. After a bit, you get up and move to a different place in the hall. And another, and another, and another. I try to experience both sides, front, middle, and back. Finally, you sit on the stage and imagine yourself playing, the music going just the way you want.
The meeting tomorrow is at a friend’s house. I don’t want to bother her with a site visit, and even if I did, I doubt she has moved her furniture and put up chairs yet. However! I know the layout for meetings at her house. I set up my sternum-opening pillows and imagine moving from seat to seat in that space, the music going just the way I want. Finally, I am sitting on the piano bench, and the music is going just the way I want. This takes concentration too! Everything is requiring my concentration today! But it’s in the service of a good cause.
I have done mental site visits before. Sometimes when I travel to perform, I don’t get to see the hall or meet the piano until the afternoon of an evening recital. So far I have always been able to find a photograph of the space using Google images. It is so comforting to walk into a familiar space. Often my students can do their own version of the Google-images site visit. Our local piano teachers group has performances in just a couple of spaces. After their first performance in a space, they can do a mental “site visit” before the next.
The first time I did a site visit, I was working through Don Greene’s highly recommended 21-day countdown to a practice performance. I rolled my eyes when I read the instructions for the site visit, because the site was… my own studio! To make it feel a tiny bit more realistic, my husband and I rearranged the room and set up the chairs right before my dutiful site visit. Still, it seemed like a silly waste of time.
Au contraire, it was a revelation. I learned that day that I had never, ever, in my conscious practicing life, practiced playing the music just the way I wanted it to go. I always practiced to deal – deal with my technical difficulties, deal with difficult voicings, deal with avoiding my usual mistakes, etc. Deal, deal, deal. Following the instructions for the site visit, though, I played, played, played. It was a new and lovely experience. Ever since then, you can bet I have always done a site visit before a performance, if even just mentally. Not only that, I now incorporate the “music going just the way I want” into my slow performance-preparation practice.
Before I do the site visit, I do play the piano. I treat the three Debussy preludes I will play tomorrow to my favorite solidifying pre-performance practice, playing a little under tempo, with the music, looking, listening, and planning ahead. Looking ahead consistently requires a surprising amount of concentration. Even though I have done it many times before, it still wears me out. Still on the piano, I work on some of the Janáček Overgrown Path pieces that are less solid than the others. Then I remind myself of my best skills for playing the whirling figure in Le vent – secret staccato, rested shoulder blades, right-hand feeling open-but-not-stretched. (I always felt that Dorothy Taubman, treated these four hyphenated words as a single important word).
One more item on the to-do list, a performance script. I include all the usual things – being happy, enjoying the morning, how I will warm up, what I will try out on the piano when I arrive. I choose a few short excerpts that won’t take everyone’s piano-tryout time, but will give me an idea how to make the sounds I want in these colorful Debussy works. Then I describe how the pieces will sound in some detail. In a fit of bravado, I write this in my script for Le vent: “The crashing chords are shocking, and shockingly accurate.” !! Some nerve! We’ll see how that works out for me.