Monday, September 30, 2013

Now stop practicing!

It's recital time! It's also time to stop practicing. 

Huh? Stop practicing?

I don't really mean that you should stop practicing for your recital. What I do mean is that you need to leave your other pieces behind. You need to stop working on the pieces that aren't going to be on the recital program. Set them aside, give them a break.

If you've been memorizing a pile of music over a long time, it's really hard to stop that momentum. But, at some point, you decided what is going to be on your recital program, and you need to focus only on that program. The program might include a couple of newly-memorized works, and it will most likely include pieces that you learned some time ago. Whatever the case, you need to let your in-process pieces take a break for a while.

You might find that you are practicing less each day. No worry! You need to retain your focus and drive. By minimizing your work, you will maintain your interest in the program. Leave the learning time for when you don't have any immediate performances.

This is very, very hard for me to do. Just last month, I had a chamber music program to prepare in the midst of all of my summer memorizing work. Since I'd played the program before, I knew I'd only need about two weeks to pull it together, including my own solo works. For a few days, I mapped out my usual practice and then tacked on the program. This added about an hour to my 2.5 hours of regular practice. When I had to meet with the violinist, I did my 2.5 plus my additional hour...plus 2.5 hours with her. By the end of the day I was exhausted. Worse, I really, really didn't feel like practicing the next day. And my back hurt from all of that playing!

After that, I realized that I needed to be more wise about how I was going to use my time. This meant that I had to drop my summer work in favor of preparing the recital. That was a hard thing to do, especially with all of my momentum. 

I've said it before: It's more fun to learn music than it is to perform it! This is a case in point. I had already prepared and performed the program with the same violinist, so there wasn't much learning to do. We just had to pull it together, and I, therefore, didn't want to drop my daily work. 

And here's the perversity of the situation. Everything I do in the practice room is to bring my music to a performing level. But when I get a chance to perform, it takes tremendous discipline to motivate myself to focus only on the performance. I know I'm not alone in this sentiment. 

I suppose that this is the very reason that, ever since I started playing from memory, I accept fewer and fewer "gigs." Gigs take up my valuable practice time, and I'm not in this for my own ubiquity. As I stated very early on in this blog, we owe it to our audiences to be the best that we can be. Taking gigs for the sake of taking gigs doesn't help our own situation if we want to be musicians of the highest quality!

(I do understand, too, that many musicians must accept gigs for the sake of the money. And this might be why the giggingmost musicians around don't play recitals. They gig. In spite of those circumstances, there continues to be a culture among musicians to take on more than they can handle, all for the sake of ubiquity or pole position on the call list. Ah, if only musicians practiced as much as they really should. Remember what I wrote about memorization forcing good habits?)

Whenever I find myself near a recital (or even a practice performance), I have to go through the pain of cutting out my other work. This, in the end, makes my recital preparation more engaging and fun, especially since I'm not cutting corners and trying to fit everything in. The end result is that I approach my recital time with a sense of confidence, relaxation, and the knowledge that I've given 100% to the preparation.