Holiday Music – Without the Stress!

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stressReady to stress out?

It’s that time of year when our thoughts turn to…MUST GET READY FOR THE HOLIDAYS!! It feels like we are holding our breath, waiting on the starting block for the race to Christmas to begin.

Home furnishings and decoration sales soar as people get their homes ready for the holidays. And musicians slip into high gear too, preparing for parties, church services, holiday recitals and concerts.

Even if you only play music “for fun,” this can be a stressful time of year as you find yourself promising to play for your women’s club or at midnight mass.

And it is even more difficult than usual to find practice time as your own holiday preparations and parties take over your schedule.

But much of the musical stress of the season can be avoided with proper planning. The three key factors in maintaining your cool and actually enjoying the holidays are practicing with extra efficiency, focus and an organized plan. And that’s where I can help with my 6 week schedule for “Holiday Music Happiness.”
We start the schedule six weeks before your last holiday performance. For many of us, that’s either Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve. Either way, the good news is that as of now, you’re right on schedule!

Six Weeks Out
Have all the music you will need for the season, selected, purchased and marked. Make a list of all the pieces and the performance date or dates for each piece. Run through all the music so that you can separate the pieces into three categories: Challenge pieces (the most difficult ones that will require the most work); Moderate pieces (not too difficult but needing some practice); and Easy Pieces (ones that you can pretty much run through with maybe a spot check here or there). Set your practice schedule. How much time and when do you have available to practice? Does your music list seem realistic given your schedule? If not, this is the time to do some adjusting.

Five Weeks Out
Begin your practice rotation. Challenge pieces will need in depth work every day. Moderate and easy pieces can be put on a rotating schedule where you do some one day and the rest the next. The rotation is the key to success here. Don’t leave any piece at the back of the pile for later. That way lies panic on the day before the performance. Divide and apportion your practice in a way that works for you, but make certain that you get to the challenge pieces every day,
the moderate pieces every other day, and the easy pieces at least once a week.

Four and Three Weeks Out
These are the weeks you do your most concentrated work. By the end of these two weeks, your challenge pieces should be fairly familiar and only requiring some spot work. Your easy pieces should flow. Your moderate pieces should feel comfortable and in control as well. These are the weeks to find out what each piece takes for you to be able to play it all the way through without stopping – and then to make it happen! The continuity of your performance can’t wait for all the notes to be right. Find the flow.

Two Weeks Out
By the end of this week, all your music will be in review mode, where you can continue to fix spots and hone the details, but you can play the piece all the way through without stopping. Schedule a run-through at the performance venue so you can make sure that you are prepared. Will you need a stand light – or two? Are you playing on carpet or tile? How does the space feel and how does your instrument sound in the space? Your goal is to eliminate potential surprises.

One Week Out
Schedule another run-through at the venue, but this time with an “audience” of one or two friends. Consider this your dress rehearsal. Did you remember to bring everything that you decided on at the last rehearsal there? Did all your equipment work? By this time, you know that you’re ready. You can continue to spot check your music and woodshed the tricky parts, but you don’t need to do any cram practicing. You’re prepared.

And you can enjoy your performance – and your holidays – with the peace that comes from planning and practice.

One final thought. The day after your performance, be sure to make some notes about the way you planned this year, what you might want to tweak and what new music you want to learn. After all it’s never too soon to start planning!

As a special bonus, I have created a one-page “Holiday Practice Planner” that will help you itemize and organize your music in the way I discuss in this post. Just click this link to get your free planner!

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  • Lorna Ota

    Dear Anne, I am so tempted, but I must decline until I’m all ‘settled into my recently-acquired ‘haven’. Christmas is my favorite holiday season…party holy, part holly! Your ideas are so excitingly enticing, but my responsibility calls my name loudly and clearly. Thank you for all of your offerings for our benefit. Happy harping! Lorna

    Reply

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