Editor’s Note: This diary entry is the twenty-forth 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, October 20: good lesson, nothing’s perfect, reflecting on the benefits of a clear intention
Today I had a shock. I played the whole Janáček On an Overgrown Path for Carol Montparker straight through, and I experienced total immersion. Just as I wrote into my performance script! It’s almost eerie. The feeling I had while playing is hard to describe. First, total comfort with the instrument and the music, even though this is my first experience with that piano. Secondly, I felt the emotion of the music so keenly. I believe Carol felt it too, judging from what she said when I finished. I don’t want to quote her because it will sound like I’m boasting! But I don’t think it would be too over the top for me to mention that she said I made Janáček’s unusual musical language accessible. I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to hear that. Sometimes I fear that I might have a deep emotional experience while playing the Overgrown Path while the audience will sit baffled and increasingly resentful for thirty minutes. I now have hopes that instead, an audience can understand why I love this music so much.
I also played a few Debussy preludes for Carol, who said she has hardly anything to say about them! Just a few teensy comments! Then, after I finished the Janáček we still had some time, so I played the first movement of the Pastorale for her. It has not improved since I played it for her last, or if it has, some things have improved while others have de-proved, and she had lots to say. Every place she brought up happened to be a place where I felt awkward while playing for her, so I’m grateful to her for offering her solutions.
I have been putting a lot of attention on the Janáček, so although the Beethoven’s current state makes me a little uneasy, I mostly feel that if I bring it back into my field of attention, it will also improve. I’m feeling positive about this upcoming recital!
I am fascinated by this second personal victory in the space of five days, coinciding with something I wrote into my performance script. The first was last Wednesday, when I had the nerve to write accurate crashing chords into my performance script. And then today, I had written total immersion into my performance script, and I felt it. Although in the interest of full disclosure, I should specify that I did not feel it right away. When I started with the Debussy, I had quite a few critical thoughts and kept wondering how it was going. I kept reminding myself to let go of thoughts and come back to the music. Within a few minutes I settled into the music, and that was a relief. As I always tell my students, the comfort is in the music.
Obviously, the performance script is not handing me these victories for free. I can’t imagine the performance script working if I hadn’t practiced enough, or had a pretty clear idea of the music’s message or how to physically make it happen. Still, the performance script provides a powerful clear intention. My Feldenkrais instructor often says that the clear intention is the most important aspect of making a movement. She emphasizes that we should not worry about doing a movement correctly; we will get it eventually if our intention is clear. I wonder if something like that is at work with the performance script. After all, I could bring many goals to a performance of the Janáček. Bringing a clear intention of playing in a state of total immersion must raise that to a clear priority and make it more likely to happen. My victory last Wednesday (the accurate crashing chords) seems almost more magical, in that I had never succeeded in playing those chords accurately in performance before. Apparently, though, my practicing had been sufficient that when I provided that clear intention of playing them accurately in the performance script, it happened.
I’m not arguing!
When I get home, I listen to the recording, and the Janáček is just as beautiful as I felt it was when I was playing. The Debussy sounds better than I felt while I was playing, in general. Fortunately, nothing is perfect. It wouldn’t do to peak too soon! Not only that, I will avoid what James Loehr, in The Mental Game: Winning at Pressure Tennis, calls “The Letdown Phenomenon.” That’s the relieved and complacent state that makes people lose focus after experiencing success. It’s nice to know I don’t need to worry about the Letdown Phenomenon!
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.