Editor’s Note: This diary entry is the twenty-seventh 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/
Thursday, October 23: my second run-through, trying to practice so the program improves in the presence of an audience
After yesterday’s revelatory run-through, I am less daunted by the enormity of running the whole program, though I’m still trepidatious. At the same time, I’m eager to see if my Beethoven improvements have held. So I sit down and do it.
So much better than yesterday! In times past, I never would have started running the program 2½ weeks before a recital date. I’m sure this sounds silly to a lot of you (not that I know if there are a lot of you out there reading this!), but I always feel like there’s so much work to do. Therefore, the most I’ve ever run at one time before it is half of a program. But already I see the benefit of running the whole thing. Omigosh, I would not like to play the way I played yesterday morning way a week before, or a few days before. Eek. Better to know now! At least my head was clear enough that I could figure out what to do. Playing through multiple times is definitely going to become part of my performance preparation.
A friend of mine is getting ready for performance, and doing many run-throughs herself. She says she is taking the “preciousness” out of performing. I can see her point.
After the run-through, I sit down and start addressing issues that came up while I was running the program. As I anticipated, it takes more than an hour. More like four hours!
I would like to get my program, or at least most of my program, to the point, mentioned in this article, in which the performance is improved by the presence of an audience. The researchers covered in the article say this is a result of practicing long after you have learned it “well enough”. They measured how much oxygen people used at different stages of learning – apparently oxygen use correlates with mental effort – and learned that well after muscles have learned to perform a task, mental effort continues to decline as we continue to practice. They relate this to the “audience effect,” which is that when an action is simple or very well learned, it improves in the presence of an audience.
I have had the experience of playing significantly better for an audience than I play on my own. It hasn’t happened to me much, but when it has happened, it has been one of the best of all life experiences. I’ve had it mostly in late Beethoven sonatas, but it’s happened in other music too. After I sat down and started to play, I’ve sunk into the music, and soon my whole consciousness consisted of only the sound in my mind, matched by the sound in the hall. When I’ve been in this state, I haven’t even felt my hands moving on the keys. The experience is so extraordinary that I have often reflected on the component parts, so I can get back there. One component is always that I’ve always been very well prepared when I’ve had this delicious feeling. Another has been a positive mindset – thinking only easy and positive thoughts the day of the performance, for example. Finally, there is the presence of the audience. I have only experienced this other-wordly feeling when I wanted to communicate music to people. I have never felt that feeling when I played on my own, even when I played late at night in a kind of dreamy state. The audience also always seems to feel “in the zone.” When I’ve had that feeling, it’s always seemed like both the audience and I needed to surface after the music came to an end, before we all remembered our next jobs – applaud, stand up, bow.
Therefore, I am very willing to keep working on this music, even though it’s tiring to keep tweaking the program after running it.
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.