Thursday, November 5, 2009

Day of a Concert

I wonder how professional musicians feel on concert days. Michael Jackson told Oprah he never got nervous. I'm quite sure that's unusual. Some argue that a bit of nervousness adds a needed edge. The true mark of a professional (in any field) may be an ideal combination of technique, intelligence, understanding, appreciation, preparedness, concentration, self-esteem, humility, and attitude. We amateurs lack one or more of those talents.

I'd guess the most common shortcomings are technique and preparedness. We want to play repertoire we aren't quite ready to handle. On the other hand, like the old saying, if you want to become better at tennis (or x), you need to play with someone better than you.

I'm often amazed by an artist's performance, as well as a composer's presentation, of the "simple." It's easy to be misled by something "simple." As I try to memorize the Schumann piano concerto, one of my stumbling blocks has been the first four measures of the cadenza near the end of the first movement, learning when each finger moves quietly, slowly, like a slo-mo Bach invention.

I sat down this morning of an Arrowhead Trio concert, Virginia neatly tucked away, and worked through our selections for this evening. In a sense, I did triage, which I don't suppose a professional would do unless lazy or overbooked. Focusing on the most difficult measures, I fought a struggling morale and prayed that tonight the odds would favor me (that is, if I can play a passage to my satisfaction six times out of ten, tonight each time will be one of those six). Perhaps I should have focused on the "easy" notes.

I imagine a professional is more astute at reducing the distractions. "Practice makes perfect" refers to more than technique, extending to things like being accustomed to performance situations (unfamiliar pianos and halls, different temperatures), instrument failures (faulty pedals, sticky keys), extraneous sounds (coughs, cellphones), accidental blunders, and the presence of critics. I find I can construct a bubble of sorts, but I'm not certain I've set the right balances. I don't want to be like the fellow who takes a prescription drug and loses his sympathy and passion.

What was it that derailed Virginia's career? She had everything, except maybe attitude.


  1. Great concert (I liked the little stars in Lake Samish and especially the first movement of Shostokovich). I wonder what your thoughts are in retrospect. Did you have a performer's high when it was all over? I think that Virginia might be your alter ego and you are going to explore her quirky life and mingle it with unexpected twists and turns. - Linda Tortoogas

  2. Not exactly a performer's high, but I was pleased. I like the idea of becoming more open about a performer's feelings about performing, and involving the audience. DuPont Hall is interesting because you can only get on stage by passing through the audience. The hall doesn't support the traditional concept of performers, in tuxedos, separate from the rest of the group (so we didn't wear tuxedos). I liked Rudolfo's comment that just when he was thinking to himself "I aced that passage" he flubbed the next one. How true! Like many things in life, when performing music, it's important to stay focused on what you're doing until you've completed the task. With all those notes zooming by, the god of bad notes is bound not to go hungry.