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Some thoughts for my student as she prepares for a competition…

Welcome to the next step of your personal musical journey. You will meet some colleagues who are musically much more mature and experienced than yourself. You will also meet those who are less experienced and mature. You have to be strong enough to be who you are at the moment you perform. You cannot try to please or be like anybody else or your playing will sound insincere, disjointed, and possibly a bit insane.

It has been a joy for me to change my role from one who helps you see the possibilities in your repertoire to that of one who listens to your unique ideas and helps you implement them.  I will always tell you what I think does and doesn’t work and give you ideas for resolving issues. However, it will be up to you to use those ideas creatively and incorporate them into your interpretation.

As you take the next step in speaking with your own musical voice use everything you have learned about music and being human—your whole self. Remember what you learned when you played Mama in The Music Man: that stranger with the suitcase who may be your very last chance. Let the voices interact. Make them sing to and with each other, interrupt, support, echo, argue, console, and more. Record yourself a couple times a week to see if your ideas can be clearly heard.

You need to balance your practice between disciplined nitty gritty work and large scale creative work. When you attack the nitty gritty (even in small sections), don’t forget to play beautifully (even with the metronome). If you merely drill, then drilling is what your final playing will sound like. Remember that you are drilling body, heart, and mind together as a whole.

Half of practice is facing that which we don’t do well and admitting we need to change. Don’t forget the other half though. Be sure you know which things you really do well and give yourself credit. When you record yourself make notes of the good stuff as well as that which needs attention.

Don’t forget the role of rhythm in a musical performance. You can voice exquisitely, use fabulous dynamics, incorporate a wide tonal palatte, phrase wonderfully, and have all the fingers in the world but if the meter is incorrect, there are false accents in passagework, or the overall tempo is not steady and logical, your playing will sound heavy, awkward, flat and/or dull.

Take breaks, drink lots of water, and do stretches during your practice hours. Consider alternating between sessions of practice at the piano and sessions away from the piano where you imagine every detail of your performance. If there is a spot you can’t imagine well, spend some extra time on it at the piano because that spot is a guaranteed danger in performance.

Most of all, embrace the solitude, in practice at the piano and away from it, that is a part of every creative person’s life. You need boatloads of time away from others to find your deepest self and connect it to your music. Only then will you receive the insights we know as true creativity. And, don’t be surprised if you are awakened at 3 am with an idea either!

 

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