Concert Ready

I have come late to performing. I did very little when I was at school – being a pianist meant I tended to be sidelined and instead I was encouraged to take up a second instrument in order to join the orchestra. Much as I enjoyed ensemble playing, the piano has always been my first love. After a long absence from the piano in my 20s and 30s, coming back to it seriously has been quite hard and I have had to “learn” how to be a performer in my 40s.

I have learnt a great deal about performing from my own experience, having completed two Performance Diplomas in fairly quick succession, by observing performers at work in concerts, and through my many interviews and encounters with musicians via my blog. I believe that order to be a successful performer one has to be clear that the performance is always going to be a completely different experience to playing at home. This may sound simplistic, but too many people think they can practise successfully at home and then simply step up to perform. It is important to differentiate between the practice of practising and performing, both mentally and physically.

I believe performing is crucial for all musicians, at whatever level, and I actively encourage my students to perform – in concerts which I arrange for them, and at more informal performance platforms in my home. At one level, performing reminds us that music was created to be shared. At another, if we can perform successfully, it shows we have practised properly, thoughtfully and deeply, and learnt how to handle our anxiety. Students need to understand the difference between practising and performing so that they can “perform” in exams, festivals and competitions, as well as in concerts.

Never assume that a piece that goes well in the comfort of your own home or studio will go equally well, or better, in a concert environment. Therefore, it is important to practise performing by playing the pieces/s or complete programme through several times before that important performance. Many performers swear by the “three times” rule, and will often schedule several performances at regional venues and music societies before playing at a big London venue such as the Wigmore Hall or Southbank Centre. Doing these “dry runs” allows one to see how the progamme works and how the pieces fit together, gauge audience reactions, check for any insecurities and make adjustments in practise. Mistakes should not be regarded as disasters and should be used positively to make improvements/changes for the next performance. Complete play-throughs at home, alone, remain useful in advance of concert day.

One of the best pieces of advice I was given by a concert pianist friend ahead of my first diploma recital (the first music exam I had taken in over 30 years) was to allow the brain and body to be rested. Don’t thrash through your practising the day before the concert: instead, practise quietly and slowly, or play other pieces. On the day of the concert, do not allow silly maxims such as “you’re only as good as your last performance” to cloud your perspective: remain positive and focussed, and look forward to sharing your music with the audience. In fact, the majority of people who attend concerts are there because they simply enjoy music: wrong notes and memory slips are not what stay in the listeners’ minds after the event. We all have something worthwhile to say through our music and that is what matters, ultimately.

After the concert enjoy the feedback from the audience and don’t “post-mortem” your performance too closely: what is done is done, and the best cure for negative thoughts or post-concert depression is to get back to the piano, and to look forward to the next performance.

Frances Wilson is a London-based pianist, piano teacher, concert reviewer and blogger on music and pianism as The Cross-Eyed Pianist. She is a reviewer for international concert and opera listings and review site Bachtrack.com, and contributes art and exhibition reviews to US-based culture and art site CultureVulture. She writes a regular column on aspects of piano playing for ‘Pianist’ magazine’s online content, and contributes guest articles to a number of classical music and music education websites around the world, including Clavier Companion and The Sampler, the blog of SoundandMusic.org, the UK charity for new music. Frances is Artistic Director of the South London Concert Series, an innovative concert concept which gives talented amateur musicians the opportunity to perform alongside young and emerging professional and semi-professional artists in the same formal concert setting.

Author: Frances Wilson
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