Tag Archives: Recital

New Year’s Resolutions: A Musician’s Guide to Self-Improvement

Happy New Year! (Photo by William Warby)

Making New Year’s resolutions is a social trend that has become more popular throughout the last century. Is becoming a better musician on your self-improvement checklist for 2014?

To help you in your quest to take your performance to a new level, here is a MUSICAL interpretation of some of the nation’s most common New Year’s resolutions out there.

Get a better bod.

  • Improve your left and right hand technique.
  • Focus on posture. Stand up straight.
  • Develop muscle memory through repetition. (Think sets of pushups and situps.)
  • Exercise (i.e. practice) three or more times a week.
  • Warm up before you play.
  • Join a musical sports team: an orchestra, quartet, or other performance group.
  • Train for a marathon (i.e. a recital or concert).

 

Have a more positive attitude.

  • Refrain from throwing your instrument when frustrated.
  • Believe in your ability to achieve your performance goals.
  • Repeat encouraging mantras. (“I can do this.” “Never say never.” ““Success is not obtained overnight.” ― Israelmore Ayivor)

 

Make strides in your career.

 

Do well in school.

  • Take private lessons (if you don’t already).
  • Do your homework (i.e. practice).
  • Keep a practice journal.
  • Make sure you have the right school supplies (i.e. accessories).

 

Do something you’ve never done before.

  • Play a new piece.
  • Play with new people.
  • Practice outdoors.
  • Compose music.
  • Listen to new artists.
  • Try a new instrument.
  • Practice new techniques.

 

Get organized.

  • Prepare and decorate a comfortable practice space.
  • Keep your practice room, case, and music collection uncluttered.

 

Reduce stress.

  • Don’t take practice too seriously.
  • Take breaks.
  • Play more ballads.
  • Get back and shoulder massage to loosen your playing muscles.
  • Set reasonable goals.
  • Don’t expect too much of yourself.
  • Keep your love for music alive.

 

Improve time management.

  • Set aside time to practice.
  • Breakup practice time dedicated to specific pieces and exercises.
  • Be realistic with your schedule.
  • Keep a planner and mark your calendar with rehearsal times and events.

 

Read more books.

  • Expand your sheet music library.
  • Learn about composers.
  • Study music history.
  • Learn how to expand your creativity. (You might try The Artist’s Way).

 

Do more community service.

  • Perform at nursing homes and hospitals.
  • Do “show-and-tell” performances at preschools and elementary schools.
  • Support musical organizations that need funding.
  • Organize a concert to support a charity.

Find love.

  • Develop an intimate relationship with your instrument.
  • Get obsessed with a composer.
  • Ask someone out on a date to an orchestra concert.
Photo by Josh James
Music is good for the heart! (Photo by Josh James)

___________________________

Need reminders to keep your goals? Print out this list and hang in your practice space. Best of luck as you strive to improve your musicianship!

Note: Don’t overwhelm yourself with unrealistic expectations. Keep in mind the value of patience, persistence, endurance, and a commitment to never give up on your dreams. Don’t be afraid to reevaluate and recommit to your artistic goals throughout the year. As Richelle E. Goodrich says in her book, Smile Anyway,

 

Do it again.

Play it again.

Sing it again.

Read it again.

Write it again.

Sketch it again.

Rehearse it again.

Run it again.

Try it again.

Because again is practice, and practice is improvement, and improvement only leads to perfection.”

________________________

Happy New Year from all of us at Kennedy Violins!

Running the Recital Marathon

It can be done. (Photo by Paul Sableman)

I’m not a fan of sports metaphors, so you’ll have to excuse this extremely obvious comparison. But I started running recently and spent the weekend seriously contemplating the concept of the Marathon. And during that contemplation, I was surprised to find myself simultaneously reflecting on my experience preparing for my first recital years ago.

After crossing the finish line at the Scarecrow Scamper 5K this Saturday, I was surprised to feel like I could keep running; I have reached some level of endurance that I’ve never experienced in my life. As I wandered over to the water table to grab a drink and a complimentary apple, I ran into a friend who’d also run the 5K. “You should run with us!” she said, referring to “us” as a group of women who meet at ungodly hours of the morning with the goal of running an actual 26.2 in the spring.

This led to a conversation about the Marathon concept itself. I asked her if she’d done one before and what it felt like. I started doing a mental inventory of friends and acquaintances of mine who have completely the feat. And then I started thinking, well, if so-and-so can do it, could I? If 60-year-olds can do it, could I? If the average Joe can do it, could I?

Then I started feeling a sense of dread. If I possibly could do it—if my body were really strong enough and capable of developing the strength and endurance necessary—does it mean that I should do it? I was feeling a very specific sense of fear that I’ve felt before: the fear of one’s own potential.

Recognizing one’s potential is a precursor to taking action. Recognizing potential leads to developing a sense of confidence, courage, and faith that you can accomplish something you have never done before.

“Well, think about it, and if you want to, come join us on Tuesday morning. I’ll send you the schedule. And there’s no pressure to do the marathon—you could just train with us and see how you feel.”

I got an email with the following schedule:

Marathon ScheduleMarathon Schedule 2I remember drawing up a similar schedule when preparing for my first recital. It had a countdown of weeks to the final performance, lessons with my private teacher and accompanist booked on the calendar, a breakdown of what to practice on certain days, and a smaller breakdown of how many hours or minutes to spend on each piece during each of those practice sessions. I knew that without that steady, regular practice, I’d likely crash and burn on performance day. NOTHING can replace a consistent effort when it comes to preparing for a performance, especially when the music is hard and the music is new.

Music takes time to learn. You get to know the notes on the page, the bowings, the fingerings. You start slowly developing muscle memory as your fingers and arms internally program patterns, shifts, and connections. As a bass player, I know that playing my instrument actually requires substantial muscle strength. If I haven’t played in a while my hand and thumb muscles cramp up. My shoulders ache. My back is sore. My triceps feel the weight of the bow. It’s amazing how even exercising outside of playing the bass can help my playing. Yoga does wonders for my back and shoulders, both of which support my form when I play my instrument.

This morning I actually went to run for the first time with the “Marathon Moms,” as I’ll refer to them. I was both encouraged and discouraged. Encouraged that I ran another 5K in distance feeling like I could keep running when I got home, but discouraged by my slow speed and the fact that I’d never run more than 4 miles—how could I do 26.2?

I’m not sure. But I’ll keep training and we’ll just see what happens.

I think that last sentiment is an attitude that many musicians also feel. Like, “Yes, I can play, and I can play pretty well. I’ll keep practicing and keep playing. Maybe someday I’ll play a real formal recital—maybe someday. But for now I’ll learn a few pieces and we’ll see what happens.”

We’ll see what happens. What does that even mean? Who sees what happens? You? The people around you?

I have an opinion—and I’d love your thoughts on this—but I feel that musicians have some obligation to perform for other people. Practice done in secret is great; there are definitely significant benefits to any individual involvement in music. It’s good for the brain, it can be relaxing, it’s an enjoyable experience. What do you think? At what point should (or is “should” the wrong word here?) a musician take their playing ability out of the practice room and into the performance sphere? Is it selfish to keep your talent and musical abilities to yourself?

I’m not really sure.

When I chatted with my husband about the idea of training for the Marathon, he made an interesting comment. “You’d have to be obsessed,” he said. “People who do marathons are kind of obsessive.

“I don’t think so,” I replied. “Like, I play the bass, but I’m not necessarily obsessed with the bass. I did a recital and, yeah, it required a lot of diligent practice, but I wouldn’t say I was obsessed with the idea.” He gave made a face that said, “Okay, I can see that.”

“But,” I said, “I do know a lot of bass players who are TOTALLY obsessed—like all they do is think about the bass and play the bass and talk about the bass and live to practice. But you don’t have to be obsessed like that to give a recital.”

“But if you trained for an actual marathon, it would take a lot of time. Like, it’d be a pretty big time commitment.”

And he’s absolutely right. Not just time to run, but time to think about it. Time to mentally be absorbed by the challenge.

So there you have it. There are so many similarities between the Recital and the Marathon. Both require

  • a plan of attack
  • preparation that begins far in advance
  • a scheduled race/performance day
  • dedication to complete the task
  • TIME to develop strength, endurance, and capability
  • Constantly renewed motivation to pull your instrument out of the case/running shoes out of the closet
  • [ideally] a huge group of fans to cheer you on!

It’s frightening to face your own potential. But if you never face it, never try, you’ll never know. You may be left with regrets. You may be left saying, “I could have done that,” because you never did it. You never opened the door to that possibility. You look back at that door and wonder what was behind it and if it’s still there.

So do you want it enough? Do you want it enough to [note obligatory Nike reference]

JUST DO IT

?

Finishing my first 10K ever! What a strange, exhausting, rewarding feeling.
Finishing my first 10K ever. Yeah!

How to Plan a Student or Solo Recital

Photo by Jin Suk

When I was younger, the word “recital” conjured up a distinct memory of only one thing: “Coda,” Episode 7 of Season 2 of The Wonder Years. I love this conversation between Kevin Arnold and his piano teacher, Mrs. Carples:

MRS. CARPLES: Have you thought about what you’d like to play for the recital this year?

KEVIN: I think I’m busy that night.

MRS. CARPLES: I haven’t told you what night yet.

KEVIN: I mean, um . . . I’m probably gonna be busy that night. See, I’m in junior high now,

and there’s a lot of demands for my time.

MRS. CARPLES: Last year’s excuse was much better. Did your uncle ever pull through?

Kevin ends up facing off with his musical arch nemesis, local piano prodigy Ronald Hirschmuller, in Mrs. Carples’ student piano recital. Both boys are playing Canon in D . . . and Kevin absolutely biffs it.

And so, after watching this I came to only one natural conclusion: recitals were created for one (and only one) purpose . . .

. . . Humiliation.

________________________

Fast forward about 15 years to the day I played my very first solo recital. I practiced and practiced for hours every day throughout the summer in preparation for my big showcase. When the day came, I knew it wouldn’t be perfect, but I was unusually excited—and confident—to finally share a talent I’d developed over the course of my lifetime. I performed in an historic lecture hall with elegant balcony seating and soft lighting. I wore a bright yellow blouse and printed my programs on yellow paper to match. I wore a beaded flower pin in my hair. Family, friends, and strangers filled the hall, applauding as my pianist and I took the stage.

And then I performed.

Doesn’t it seem a strange thing to do, to practice hundreds of hours for one 50-minute performance? And it wasn’t even perfect—of course it wasn’t.

But, on the other hand, it was a wonderful, wonderful experience. My first recital turned out to be one of the greatest accomplishments of my life so far—something I’m so proud of. Not only did I feel great about it, but those who came were edified by the performance—even inspired to develop their own talents to share with others.

I left not remembering the mistakes, but the feeling of the instrument in my hands, the applause, the warm hug from my bass professor, the taste of the cinnamon rolls we ate afterwards, and the satisfaction of so many years of lessons and practice finally being brought to fruition.

Recitals aren’t meant to be a chore or just another chance to feel overwhelmed by stage fright. A recital is simply an opportunity to share. Yes, yes, recitals are a lot of work in the sense that they require diligent preparation. But there is nothing that will motivate you more to practice and develop yourself as a musician as an opportunity to perform. And, seriously, what’s the point of practicing in a closet and never performing? Music is meant to be heard.

HOW TO PLAN A RECITAL

There are two main types of recitals: student recitals and solo recitals.

A student recital is a recital organized for multiple performers who are students of the same teacher. A private teacher may have seasonal or annual recitals scheduled for students to perform what they’ve learned in their lessons for parents, friends, family, and other members of the music studio.

A solo recital is a recital by a single performer, usually with an accompanist. Solo recitals might include a duet or small ensemble piece. Joint recitals are sometimes organized with two soloists contributing to one program.

Whether you are a private teacher or solo performer planning a recital, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind. Here are some basic steps to follow when as you organize your program:

 

  1. Set a date. Give yourself enough time to practice and prepare. Think months in advance instead of weeks. Consult with family members and friends to pick a date that’s convenient for your most important guests.
  2. Find a venue. Because recitals are usually for smaller audiences in intimate settings, there are many excellent options as far as performing spaces go. House recitals are wonderfully cozy. Homes with vaulted ceilings usually have lovely acoustics. School and city auditoriums, cafes, libraries, community centers, and even outdoor parks and amphitheatres are great options. Call in advance to book a venue.
  3. Choose your music and finalize your program. Try choosing a variety of pieces to round out your program with a variety of composers and pieces from various eras (Baroque, Romantic, Classical, Modern, etc), or pick a theme (Bach, autumn, arias, movie music). Try not to add pieces last minute, throwing off your practice schedule and leaving you with inconsistently prepared pieces. For beginning students, Suzuki pieces are an excellent choice for student recitals, giving young players confidence to play on stage from the start with wonderful standard tunes. Kennedy Violins now carries sheet music perfect for the occasion.
  4. Find an accompanist. Choose someone experienced over an acquaintance or neighbor who just happens to play the piano. Remember that accompanists are usually paid per service.
  5. Practice with a plan. Write out a schedule devoting equal time to each piece on your program. You don’t want your favorite piece to sound great while everything else doesn’t. Consider focusing on one piece per weekday while still running through each piece daily.
  6. Keep up with lessons. Having a mentor is key when preparing. You need someone who can not only listen to you play, but give you pointers to perfect your performance.
  7. Invite people. Invite anyone and everyone! You can have small recitals for family members or open it up to the general public–whatever you want to do! Recitals are excellent opportunities for community members and loved ones to get together.
  8. Print programs. Keep the program simple. Take a look at program examples online for ideas. Include the title of each piece with the composers name. You could also include the composer’s birth and death dates, a bio about yourself and/or accompanist, and the names of each performer in the recital for group, joint, or student recitals.
  9. Arrange for audio/video recording. For student recitals especially, parents love a good video of their child performing. For professional recitals or to record pieces you’re like to submit as audition sample recordings, find quality equipment and possibly a sound engineer to record for you.
  10. Consider refreshments. Assign a friend or family member to take care of this for you so you don’t have to worry about it the day of the performance. A little munch and mingle after a recital is a great opportunity to receive positive feedback and plenty of hugs from all your fans.
  11. Decide what to wear. Choose something comfortable and cool. Practice in your outfit before hand to make sure you’re not restricted or uncomfortable while playing.
  12. If possible, practice in the venue. Test out the acoustics and balance with your accompanist.
  13. Have a dress rehearsal. Be sure to play through your entire program without stopping at least a few times on your own and at least once with your accompanist. If you can, have your teacher present for your dress rehearsal to give you any last pointers to prepare for the big day.
  14. Perform. Don’t stress about each and every difficult passage–just go for it! Let loose and do your best! Put in everything you’ve got and relish your moment in the spotlight. Performances like this don’t happen every day!
  15. Celebrate! Enough said.

Stage Fright Tips: How to Overcome Performance Anxiety

photo by schleikmeister
Studies show that amongst a general list of “greatest fears,” there’s one in particular that consistently takes the cake. Surpassing a fear of spiders, heights, and even death, the act of public speaking (or performance) leaves most people shaking in their boots.

“So, you’re telling me that at a funeral, most people would rather be the guy in the coffin than have to stand up and give a eulogy,” says Jerry Seinfeld.

Exactly.

So what is it about performing for a crowd that makes us so nervous we physically react? Shaking hands, dry mouth, stomach butterflies, sweating, an increased heart rate, the rush of adrenaline. You would think this fight-or-flight reaction would be in response to a rhinoceros threatening to run you down.

And yet, instead, all you’ll find is a group of strangers, colleagues, family, friends, and even your sweet grandmother happily anticipating your rendition of “Vocalise.” And check this out: 99% of them (unless you have very evil friends), are hoping–and knowing–you’ll succeed. No one wants you to see you fail.

The most common reasons for stage fright are a fear of failure or criticism, uncertainty, self-consciousness, and social phobia. Trouble is, most of us deal with some combination of these fears, desperately hoping to impress or please the people around us–strangers or not.

So while it may take a little more to cure you of your fear of failure (you might also try a few hundred hours of counseling), here are a few tips to battle stage fright and have a truly exceptional–and even rewarding!–performance.

___________________

1. Prepare and Practice.

If you’re afraid of biffing that difficult cadenza, don’t avoid it; instead, face it. Practice the most difficult passages to a point where you don’t worry about them anymore. There’s nothing worse than walking on stage knowing you aren’t prepared. You’d be setting yourself up for failure, which is the root fear that causes stage fright.

2. Be Confident.

Easier said than done, right? But seriously, give yourself some credit! Embrace your ego and let yourself feel strong and capable–because you are. Hours and hours and years of years of your hard work and experience have prepared you for success in this moment. Take pride in the skills you have. Be empowered.

3. Remember, No One’s Perfect.

In fact, the majority of the people in your audience probably have zero experience with your instrument. Some have maybe never touched a violin, viola, cello, or bass in their life. So if you’re fretting over your vibrato in that one phrase being less than perfect, remember that there are people in the audience who don’t even know what vibrato is. It’s like picturing the audience in their underwear as if you have something going for you that they don’t. Truth is, you do.

4. Don’t Dwell on Mistakes.

Along with remembering that no one is perfect, keep in mind that that includes yourself. Everyone makes mistakes. The “perfect” performance doesn’t exist. So if you stumble a little, don’t just stop and give up or stew over what just happened. Instantly move on and get back to the music. Dwelling on your mistakes will lead to making even more mistakes because you’ve lost focus. And speaking of focus . . .

5. Focus.

In the performance setting, there are a lot of details to distract you from the task at hand: the lighting, who’s out in the audience, your accompanist’s polka dot tie. Tune all of it out and focus on what you’ve practiced. There will be time to talk to that cute guy or girl in the audience after you’ve taken your bows.

6. Perform Before You Perform.

Don’t let your big performance be the first time you’ve played for anyone besides your teacher. Take every opportunity possible to play your repertoire before the scheduled performance date. Play for your friends, spouse, family, strangers, or even your cat. Schedule a small house concert or go play on a street corner if you have to.

7. Dress Comfortably.

What to wear might be a concern before your performance, but once you’re actually playing, it shouldn’t be. Avoid tight corsets, uncomfortable shoes, strangling neckties, or hot tuxedos. Some people even perform barefoot! Just make sure your clothing doesn’t distract from your focus while you play. Try on and practice your program in your performance-wear beforehand to be sure shifting, moving, or breathing isn’t more difficult than it needs to be.

8. Relax.

I remember before playing a house concert once, I went to the back room and screamed my lungs out to relieve my nerves. Do something to get the adrenaline out of your system: jump up and down, run in a few circles, shake out your limbs. And once you’ve done that, calm yourself down. Deep, slow breathing and some stretching also helps release the tension that’s been building up in anticipation of your performance.

9. Be Familiar with the Venue.

If at all possible, run through your program at least once in the recital hall, auditorium, or performance space where you’ll be playing. You don’t want any surprises on performance day, like blinding stage lights, no piano for your accompanist, or weird acoustics that throw you off.

10. Enjoy Yourself.

Remind yourself why you love music and what this is all about. Then go ahead and let yourself go. Enjoy the spotlight and the support of your audience. Have a good time! After all, isn’t that what’s it’s all about?