Editor’s Note: This diary entry is the thirty-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/
Tuesday, November 4: avoiding negative self-talk, choosing 1-4 goals for my performance script
I seem to be maturing. This morning as I ran my recital, I found myself in an old, counterproductive posture, and simply got out of it when I realized what was happening. I did not indulge in time-consuming self-recriminations. That’s how I know I’m maturing. In the past I would have felt disappointed and maybe even defeated, and maybe had a few choice words about myself, depending on my mindset du jour. This time, I simply reflected that it wasn’t surprising to find myself in that posture, and I was happy I could improve upon it.
This old, counterproductive posture is hunched and armored. It’s not surprising to find myself in it, as I lived there until I was about 30 years old. I was such a shy child that it was only natural for me to curl up into a protected shape. It is not optimal for playing the piano, though, so with the help of bodywork experts I’m working to open up.
I was also able to identify specific characteristics of that posture, and of its more optimal alternative. I can bring this information to practice and performance. The better posture has a lot of softness, flexibility, and length between the jaw and elbow. The old posture is more rigid in the shoulders and jaw. Also, my first sensation when I started playing in that old posture was that I could not balance and release into the keys. I felt like I could not connect to the piano. So now I know that if I feel I cannot connect, or if I feel rigid in the shoulders and jaw, a solution may be to get more length between the jaw and elbow.
Another piece of good news is that I was in that old uncomfortable posture for a comparatively short time before I recovered. I take that as a good sign. Why not?
Still, I would prefer to play my recital in the more flexible posture. To that end, I practice starting every piece, with that nice soft length from jaw to elbow, connecting to the piano, feeling the pulse, hearing the sound, and feeling the character of the piece from the very beginning. It’s a rewarding way to practice. Then I review some technically challenging passages, still in that more flexible posture.
With five days to go, I have to start working on my performance script. The performance script is one of the best performance preparation tools I’ve taken from Dr. Bill Moore’s Playing Your Best When It Counts: High Performance Journal. This script is a detailed description of both the day of the performance and the performance itself. I’m going to spend a lot of time this week deciding the 1-4 goals he allows me. I encountered this idea of carrying only a few goals into performance a couple of decades ago. I believe this came from James Loehr, although I couldn’t find it when I looked just now. I wish there were a special place in my mind for references I will want at a later date! Anyway, I believe it was Loehr who said that if a player went into a game thinking, “This is the decisive moment. Everything has to be right,” the game is doomed. A goal like that is too vague and too big. If a person went into a game with a goal like, “Make sure my feet are set well for every backhand,” everything else would jiggle into place, as it must, if the feet are to be stable for every backhand. Ever since I read that, I have limited myself to 1-4 goals for every recital. Not only that, I tell myself that if I make those goals about 92% of the time, I won. I’m not allowed to complain about anything else that doesn’t go the way I want. I’ve written this into the “Performance Preparation” sheets I have made for students too.
Things really do jiggle into place when I find the right goals. For one recital several years ago, I chose only one goal, which was to always play with a beautiful sound, even in ff or fff. I know how to release into the keys to create a beautiful sound in high volume, but sometimes my excitement got the better of my sound. Things really did jiggle into place when I chose that goal: that was the most accurate recital I have ever played. People even commented on my accuracy afterwards! I had to laugh and tell them it was anomalous.
So I’m going to put a lot of thought into my recital goals for Sunday. I already know what one will be: that feeling of loose length between my jaw and elbow that I found today.
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.