A friend shared this video with me and I thought you'd love to see it too. One by one, musicians arrive in their street clothes and begin playing Ravel's Bolero. Imagine how surprised you would be to hear an entire orchestra perform in a train station!
I played one of the best concerts of my career the other night. It was amazing--a sold-out audience, inspiring conductor, top-notch orchestra, exciting music and thrilling soloists. It was one of those experiences that come along once in a great while. It capped off a pretty amazing month.
The end of the concert season brought an abundance of great musical moments. First, there was Beethoven's Ninth with our Music Director Emeritus, Lawrence Leighton Smith. The very next week brought our new Music Director, Josep Caballe'-Domenech to conduct Bruckner's 7th Symphony. A week later I subbed with the Colorado Symphony and played Mahler's Ninth.
The musicians reading this will appreciate what goes into preparing and performing these works. Orchestral playing requires a very specific tool set. We must learn our music, read our music, watch the conductor, watch the concertmaster, play with our stand partner, play with our section, listen to the rest of the orchestra in order to blend sound, volume and tuning. Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 is performed more frequently than the others but still has to be practiced every time. All three works are more than an hour long. They are technically and physically wrought with challenges. Electrifying while at the same time, exhausting. All this is done in a concert hall with an audience that is expected to sit quietly until all the movements are complete. Then they may clap and/or leap to their feet.
Maybe it sounds like I'm complaining. On the contrary, performing works like these keep me inspired. They make me look forward to next season. Masterworks are worth every bit of the effort it takes to play them. These pieces remind me of the training and practice I invested in myself.
In spite of all that great, inspiring music, sometimes a girl just wants to have fun. No Beethoven, Bruckner or Mahler were performed on my favorite concert of the season. In fact, this show couldn't have been further from the Viennese masters. When I told my friends, neighbors and children that I was playing Mahler some might have nodded with understanding. It's quite a different reaction when you tell folks you're playing with Earth, Wind and Fire. Honest to gosh. The band came into town two weeks ago and hired a 31-piece string section for their concert at Red Rocks. It was carefree and joyful and just about the most fun I've had with a viola in my hands. We danced in our seats, we laughed, we cheered, we took pictures. Never have I seen a bunch of orchestral musicians so happy. I'm going to remember this one for a long time. Yep, Shining Stars for one night, we danced our cares away in Boogie Wonderland.
Whether your student is taking private lessons or learning with a whole classroom of students, chances are they've played many times for a teacher. The others who have heard them play might be fellow students, parents and siblings. Most often students find themselves in their bedrooms playing for an audience of tongue-tied dolls while the family dog races for the nearest exit. (This is based on personal experience--one of my dogs used to rub her ears and howl when I played! Not so supportive; definitely hilarious.)
In the course of learning an instrument students will be presented with various opportunities for performance. Last weekend a few of my private students participated in our school district's solo contest. These violinists and violists prepared solo pieces to perform in front of a judge for oral and written critique. Judge? Critique? Whoo boy--a silent teddy bear is starting to look a whole lot better! At least you're guaranteed a hug.
Whether it's the familiar setting of a studio recital or the institutional feel of an adjudicated festival, students need additional preparation. Once a student has spent time learning a piece we talk about the nuts and bolts of performance. For my youngest students bowing politely is one of their first lessons. We work on ignoring distractions by playing focus games. Older students practice starting their piece with a few silent measures of introduction before the bow even touches a string. This kind of preparation teaches performance etiquette, concentration and how to play your best from the very first note.
In spite of all the preparation no one can predict the outcome. We can plan and prepare but a live performance is…well, it's live. And that means it's subject to any and every variable. What happens when the piece is over? How can we support young, tender feelings? That's where emotional preparation comes into play. That can start during lessons, in the classroom and at home. In Suzuki training we were taught to always start with a positive compliment. After that you can move on to suggestions and ideas for improvement. Parents can also offer support with this method.
It's never too early to start performing. Practicing performance skills with your students and children will help them grow as musicians. Encourage your students to perform often in familiar settings. Beginning students can arrange weekly family concerts. Students in group classes can play individually or in small groups for the rest of the class. As a teacher, it's my job to make sure students are prepared before they take the stage. As a mentor, I can assure them that performance isn't the goal; it is just one step on a journey.