November 11, 2008

It's All in the Preparation

There's an old joke, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall? ... Practice, practice, practice." Last night five new Orchestra musicians displayed the results of their hard work in a wonderful mini-concert for the RPO volunteers. Hearing them perform in a more intimate setting than a concert hall, and solo and in duets instead of an ensemble, it got me to thinking about what it takes to get up and perform on stage.

Certainly, many hours of practicing until your fingers have the muscle memory to form the notes and you get the sound you're looking for. But there's also a certain amount of mental preparation, to stay focused and not get stage fright or lose your place in the music.

I also perform from time to time - not an orchestral instrument, but the traditional folk instrument called the mountain dulcimer, also known as Appalachian dulcimer or lap dulcimer. When I'm preparing for a performance, I will play a tune over and over, and also sing in the car to memorize the words to songs.

Right before a concert, I also think of something I learned from the Van Cliburn Award-winning pianist Alexander Kobrin. When he performed with the RPO a few years ago, I had the pleasure of driving him to WXXI for an interview with Julia Figueras. She asked him what he did right before he went on stage, and he said he just kept going over the music in his head. It helped him stay calm and focused. I've tried it - and it worked.

For you musicians out there - what you do right before playing a concert? I've heard of some musicians who have certain routines they follow beforehand, maybe like an athlete with a lucky pair of socks? Or maybe it's just taking a deep breath right before going on stage. I'd be interested to hear. Not that I'm going to Carnegie Hall anytime soon ... but I'll keep practicing.

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