Editor’s Note: This diary entry is the thirty-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/
Saturday, November 8: mental practice, performance script, site visit
One day to go! I am not planning to touch the piano today. In times past, I would have sat practicing at the piano six hours today, but after I read in Don Greene’s Performance Success that he recommends no physical practice the day before and day of, I tried it, and I like it so much better.
That’s not to say I’m not practicing. I mentally practice the whole recital from beginning to end, with the score. To make sure I’m present, I look and listen ahead. In the spirit of the site visit, I make the effort to hear and feel the music going just the way I want. This isn’t so easy. I have to let go of the feeling of “making sure” in all sorts of ways. It brings me closer to the music, though, so it’s worth it.
Ahem, about that site visit… On Thursday night my husband and I set up my studio so I could do the site visit yesterday. Maybe it was because my fantastic piano technician spent a couple of hours in there Friday morning, but… I neglected to do that site visit. I don’t remember even thinking about the site visit. This is a shame. The site visit is invaluable, and doing it a couple of days ahead is invaluable. If you are my student, this is a good moment to do as I say and not as I do!
In addition to mentally practicing my entire program with the score, I also have cooking and housecleaning to do, as well as exercising and some Feldenkrais work. Still, I do get to that site visit. I enter my own studio, with chairs set up for the audience, and piano in recital position. I sit in the back left corner, imagining the music going just the way I want. I move to the middle of the back, and the back right. I can spend time in every row because the studio isn’t that big! Eventually, I am sitting on the piano bench, imagining the music going gloriously just the way I want. The music-going-just-the-way-I-want part is the most important part of this activity. The first time I did the site visit, it was a revelation. That’s why I’m fitting it in, albeit a little late in the game.
I also put the finishing touches on my performance script. Most of the performance script is already written, but I take my time finishing it up. If I do it well, it will set me up for a good day when I read it tomorrow morning. My 1-4 goals may be the most important part. I always wait until the week before a performance to choose the goals. They tend to be ephemeral, cues that happen to help me play my best that week. Here are the goals I settle on:
Length jaw to elbow
Sit up (stomach out)
Enjoy every moment
I choose total commitment because the one thing I want more than anything else is to stay with the music and the piano, not pulling away for a second. This goal has an unwritten implication of letting go of extraneous thoughts returning to the music. The length from jaw to elbow is the cue that helps me physically play the most freely this week. Sitting up with my stomach out is necessary for me to maintain that length. (My Feldenkrais instructor can be quite passionate about not sucking in the gut and freezing all the muscles in the center of the body. The day I first experimented with sticking my stomach out, my sound improved and my octaves sped up). It takes a lot of nerve to write “enjoy every moment” into my performance script, but why not? I mean it as in loving the music all the way through. This is one of my goals, and I want to say it “out loud”. It goes onto the list.
I place a few reminders into several places in the performance script – a reminder that it’s live music, a reminder to reset the loose length from jaw to elbow, to enjoy every moment of each piece. Several times, I insert this reminder: “Anything that goes other than I prefer is a cue to reset, release, and return to the music.” I hope this will help me recover quickly from any slips. Nearly everything else on the performance script is a detail I feel will help me bring out the spirit or story of each piece.
I’ve prepared every way I know how, these past weeks. That’s all I can do. Tomorrow, when I do my best to share the music with dear friends, I will find out how it works for me.
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.