Editor’s Note: This diary entry is the thirty-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 29: sleep, power poses, and running the music under less than ideal conditions
Life events are making me lose sleep. That’s a shame. Don Greene, in Performance Success, recommends we get in extra sleep as a performance approaches. Ha. And check out this article, which says we need the first half of our night’s sleep to solidify academic performance, and the second half to solidify motor skill performance. Unfortunately, it looks like I’m not getting a lot of that second half this week.
I’m trying to do a pajama run-through of every piece on my recital this week (you can read about pajama run-throughs in my very first diary entry). Today was the Debussy set that begins the second half of my program. It was lousy! Maybe it’s the sleep deprivation, but I have the jitters. My pedaling was off, I dropped notes, etc. etc. Although I kept going, reminding myself to come back to the music.
Listening to the recording, I was reminded that we do not have perspective to judge our playing while performing (not to mention that we have other things to do at the moment). The Debussy sounds quite good. Not perfect, but the essential musical message was intact, and it sounded mostly polished.
Then. I ended up spending a total of 3 hours at Best Buy trying to solve electronics problems. A lot of that time, I was doing nothing – my least favorite activity – while standing at the Geek Squad desk. The silver lining was that, standing there at the Geek Squad desk, I had a lot of time to reflect on how I could get back to a more positive mindset.
First, I thought about those jitters and thought maybe it’s time for some power poses. To learn the power of the power pose, check out this inspiring TED talk by Amy Cuddy. Today I’m particularly interested in two benefits of power poses – one was that her research shows that power poses reduce cortisol (which causes the jitters, among other things), and increase testosterone (making us feel more courageous). Her other point was that we can use power poses not to be artificially hyped up, but rather so we have the courage to bring our whole selves to any situation, instead of hiding behind a frightened mask of timidity. I have used power poses before, and they really have reduced my jitters. I just have to remember to do them! And bringing my whole self to this performance, in which I hope to continue down the path of becoming a happier performer, seems essential. Not only that, much about power poses coincides with suggestions various bodywork instructors have given me. That’s interesting all by itself.
Another train of thought I had there at the Geek Squad desk was about the slips that had disappointed me when I ran the Debussy. They really didn’t get in the way of the music, but I was in a mindset that allowed me to be bothered by them. So there at the Geek Squad desk, I pledged (anew) to accept slips. Somewhere, I will neglect to lift or depress the una corda pedal, somewhere my damper pedal will smudge notes. I will leap and miss, probably more than once. WHATever, as the kids used to say! (Do they still say that?). As I thought about the different kinds of mistakes I am bound to make, I realize that only one kind of mistake could/should/would bother me in any lasting way: a mistake I make by pulling away from the piano, or the music, out of fear. So then I pledged (anew) to commit to the piano, and the music, from beginning to end.
One more realization while I was standing at the Geek Squad desk: in the excitement of dealing with the jitters and my electronics, I never ran the last three movements of the Beethoven. Sigh.
I finally got home late, not having eaten, and needing to wash some perfumed product from my hair that’s been aggravating my sinuses ever since my haircut earlier in the day. I was very tempted to skip running those Beethoven movements. But I always tell my students, “Run your music when you’re happy, when you’re sad, when you’re energetic, when you’re tired, when you’re in a good mood, and when you’re in a foul mood.” I was in a foul mood for a lot of the day, but at that point I was just tired and hungry and sore of sinus. I decide to do it! I even tell myself that spending time with the Pastorale has to be a nice antidote to 2.5 hours at the Geek Squad desk, as well as a good opportunity to spend quality time with my new (old) pledges to accept slips and commit to the music.
I did it, and I kept my pledges. It really was a nice way to end the day.
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.