Too often, students are thrown into difficult performance situations without really being prepared for them. If things go well, everyone’s happy. If things go badly, the damage can be difficult to repair. I think it’s easier to get back on the horse that throws you, than to take the stage again after a bad experience.
My own worst performance experience came at a harp society gathering in New York City when I was a Curtis student. I was performing a solo in front of an entire audience of harpists and had a memory slip. So I started over, and had a slip at the same point. I walked off the stage. Eventually, with much encouragement from my classmates, I grabbed the paper music, walked back out and played the piece. It was not my finest moment, and it stuck with me for a long time.
There were a number of steps I took to make sure that didn’t happen to me again. And there are three tips I have for any of you who may be looking forward with dread to your next big concert.
1. Preparation.You must prepare to perform. That’s not just practicing the music, although obviously that’s part of it. Preparing to perform includes preparing to play through adrenalin, distraction, discomfort and bad lighting. That’s why “preview” performances before any big concert are a good idea. After all, they “preview” films before making final cuts and edits. It it’s good enough for Hollywood…
2. Repetition. When you perform frequently, you begin to develop some familiarity with the experience. If performing is something you do once a year, it will take some years before you are familiar with the way your body and mind react to the stress. If you perform more often, you will develop a comfort level more quickly. Just keep at it!
3. Acceptance.You must accept the fact that any performance will likely not be the best one you are capable of. Next, you must accept that each performance is a single event. Just because one went really badly doesn’t mean that the next one will too. (And, unfortunately, just because one went well doesn’t mean the next one will too.) Finally, you must accept that a performance which doesn’t satisfy you may very well still be pleasing to an audience, and so still has value. That can be the hardest for many people to accept, but it is true. You also may want to check out this post I wrote about performing tips.
I resisted the temptation to add a fourth tip that started with a “Y.” Praying never hurts, but it is no substitute for doing the work!