Editor’s Note: This diary entry is the twenty-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/
Wednesday, October 15: Debussy performance, practicing for the next event
When last we met, I had had the nerve to write accuracy into my performance script for this morning! I didn’t mention that I had also written in a “spirit of adventure”. This would mark the second time a spirit of adventure made its way into a performance script. Last year was the first, when I performed some songs with a beautiful soprano. One of them was so filled with large repeated chords that I calculated I had to play up to 38 notes per second! You better bet I trained that piece very carefully. Still, sometimes it would happen and sometimes it would not. As I was practicing for the performance, I realized that the successful runs were ones to which I brought what I finally identified as a spirit of adventure. A happy conversation with a friend, or a fun interaction with the soprano right before we ran it would make me feel light of heart and playful, and… adventurous. I would then be open, flexible, and fully engaged as I played, and it would go well. So I planned to bring a spirit of adventure to the performance, and even wrote it into the performance script. When the day of the performance arrived, I read the performance script and reminded myself about the spirit of adventure. I reminded myself about the spirit of adventure again right before we launched into the first notes of that song. As we rounded the corner to the last page of the song, I realized I was pulling it off and almost laughed out loud with the thrill of it! That song and Le vent are superficially unalike, but both require the kind of speed and precision that only an open, flexible body can muster. A spirit of adventure can’t hurt, and it helped before. Along with the plan to play those dastardly chords accurately, I am mentally armed as well as I know how.
And guess how it went. It went well! Not perfect, but I could feel by the quality of silence in the room that people were immersed in the music when I was playing my opening piece, Bruyères. Next came Le vent. I got my torso into position, rested my shoulder blades down, and made sure my right hand felt open-but-not-stretched. Then I reminded myself to bring a spirit of adventure to the next few minutes, felt the pulse, and started. Two things made me happy. The first was that I was able to express. I did not feel that I was just surviving the piece, I was crafting it, at high speed. Secondly, those chords! They were indeed very accurate! There were a couple of slips, but I believe they were more accurate than any time I had ever played them previously, except for in extremely slow practice! Not only that, I was so happy and amazed at their accuracy, that I became more and more free with each set of chords. By the last set I was just throwing my hands around. What a ride! It was hard for me to calm down to play Les sons when it was over, but I managed to play it in a way that I liked, with just one little insignificant hesitation.
I was so happy with this performance that I was almost afraid to listen to the recording and find out I was mistaken about how it went. Some comments emboldened me, though. A couple of people asked me expectantly, “Were you happy with your performance?” Nobody has ever asked me that before when I have played for the Performers Club, and I was pretty sure they meant, “You have to be happy with that performance, right?” And one person made a comment about Bruyères – “When I played Bruyères, I never realized how long the melody lasts” – that made me feel happy indeed. I have been trying to create a consistent warm sound for all of the melodic notes all the way through the A sections, and then throughout the B section, and his comment makes me feel I have succeeded.
After lunch I did the responsible thing and listened to that recording. It really was quite good! Just a couple of things… That’s good! It’s always good to have something to work for, and wouldn’t do for me to get complacent. I make a special note to practice getting “into character” the minute I start each piece. I took a little time to settle into the particular sound quality I wanted to create for both Bruyères and Les sons, and these pieces are so short you want to be fully immersed in the character from the first note.
I have just a little time to myself before I need to get on with the rest of my day, so I begin touching up the Janáček, which I will be playing for Carol Montparker next Monday, along with Général Lavine – excentric, Bruyères, and Les sons.