Editor’s Note: This diary entry is the thirty-sixth 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, November 6: feeling the responsibility, help from Feldenkrais, mindfulness in practice
Three days to go! To be honest, while part of me is looking forward to the event, another part is looking forward to it being over. I feel so responsible. Even though I’m practicing enjoying the music, there is also a lot of practicing to do. As well as enjoying the recital, I want to play my best, and I feel responsible to that goal every minute of my practice day. I remember this from previous performances – the feeling of being responsible to the music, and to the audience. I feel so responsible at this juncture that the performance comes as a relief. Even though I would think the actual performance brings the greatest responsibility, I find it a relief to play that day without being responsible for the next time.
Today I start with running the recital. This will be my last run-through. When I have just two days to go, slow practice feels like putting gas in the car, and running the program feels like using it up. I have to say, though, that these nine times I have run the program have been invaluable. This performance preparation tool is a keeper.
When I take a break, I do a Feldenkrais lesson my teacher Sharon Oliensis recommended for me. My legs and hips (of all things) have been sore. Sharon also thinks that if I do a Feldenkrais lesson every day, I’ll be so much more comfortable and focused that I’ll feel like I have more time in the day. Well, the lesson was amazing. When I played through all my pieces slowly afterwards, I felt so much more mobile and comfortable. But Sharon, about the other part… I did not feel like I had more time in the day! Too bad.
I just want to say one more word about slow practice: mindful.
OK, I’ll fill in a bit more!
I realize that I mention slow practicing a lot, and I don’t want you to think I’m referring to mindless slogging away to improve “muscle memory”. Practicing has to be mindful to be meaningful. To that end, I always try to have an overall goal in mind when I practice anything, slow or fast. Early on in the process of learning a piece, it might be something general like moving comfortably from note to note, or being sure to flow from section to section without stuttering. Close to the performance date, my overall goal might be to bring out the story line of every piece on the program, or to ask myself what I would like listeners to feel or hear in every section, and bring that out. For integrating a particular change, I love “one-goal practices” in which I focus on a particular goal and allow other elements to slip away if necessary. Goals could be in any arena of playing – expression, mindset, technique, or body movement. One-goal practices I’ve used while preparing this recital (to name just a few) include letting go of thoughts to return to the music, always making a free preparatory movement to play 5, always feeling movement from downbeat to downbeat, and keeping my sternum open and flexible. A more general slow practice goal would be something like creating a signature sound for every section, or, relatedly, making sure the layers of voices are consistent in every phrase. As I approach a performance, I do a lot of my looking/listening/planning-ahead slow practice. This isn’t easy, and it shouldn’t be easy when we do it right – always looking ahead in the score, always listening for the next sound we want to make, always planning the next movement or effect. But we’re trying to play well, right? A little hard work is part of the deal, and this is hard work that yields enormous benefits. This week, I’m doing looking/listening/planning-ahead slow practice on the whole program every other day.
For more on mindful practice, I recommend Bruce Berr’s ad lib column from the October 2014 edition of American Music Teacher. In this article, The Art of Repetition, he discusses the importance of variation when repeating. We have to repeat every part of a piece a lot in order to make it smooth, expressive, and performance-reliable. We do not ever have to play it the same way.
I do a little more shopping for the reception, and call it a day. I’ve been responsible, and now I want to let up.
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.