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Performing (Part 1)

Some people just love performing. Some people would love to love performing. We all have our own position on performing but there is no doubt that performing gives one a deeper understanding of the song and a unique insight as to how to communicate both its text and its musicality. By writing “its” I don’t mean to disrespect the lyricist and composer, but in this blog I want to view things from the performer’s point of view.

To perform at our best, ideally we should be in full control of the material, technically and musically. Assuming this is the case, performing should be a breeze.......but there is more to consider. Standing up there on a podium, in front of a renowned choir, orchestra and conductor, or before a critical audience - or whom we perceive to be a critical audience even if it’s our family or friends - is considerably more scary than actually performing the piece in the privacy of one’s own private practice space. Why? I believe that we have to be mentally and emotionally prepared for the situation in addition to the obvious musical preparation. We can do this in various ways just as we practise vocally.

Common to all performances is preparation of course. Though rather negative, the soundbite “failure to prepare is preparation for failure” should give us the motivation to know our stuff. There are plenty of side issues that can throw us a curve-ball on the day of a performance - not being able to see the conductor very easily, not having had a decent night’s sleep, the accompanist losing the sheet music, desperately needing to get that part or placement, wanting to prove oneself to parents/teachers/ colleagues - so the less we have to worry about our own ability the better. We need to know that we are on top of the material and trust ourselves here.

I always make sure that my students have a trial run as part of the lead up to a performance. However low profile that performance may be in the bigger scheme of things, it’s usually most important to the performer. Nerves never fully go away but should and need to be overcome, and a mock performance often flags up issues of memory, vocal constriction and even stamina. The teacher, or indeed the student can then work on those issues in advance of the “real” thing. This also highlights the fact that vocal preparedness should be ready way in advance. Think of using nerves as a way into accessing adrenaline although a word of caution here........too much adrenaline can make us speed up the tempo and convince us to push too much with our vocals. I’d suggest practising any speaking as part of the trial run and completely be at one with vocal effort levels.

Planning for a performance doesn’t just mean planning the music to be performed, which could involve ensuring the pianist has the music with the correct routine and in the correct key, or that the venue is booked and tickets organised etcetera. Planning also requires the performer to be comfortable with the occasion. Consider the forthcoming performance with a sense of reason and of pride. Whether for a paying audience or an audience of supporting friends and colleagues, they will have made the effort to attend. They want to be entertained and (generally) be made to feel comfortable and a performer must be respectful though not intimidated by them. Imagine being in the venue, where you’ll be standing. Picture the audience staring back at you.......sometimes they may seem nonchalant during your performance but don’t let this diminish your keenness and love of the music: they’re most likely willing you to perform at your brilliant best.

Seize those performing opportunities! Slow, calm breathing out will be useful prior to even a "semi-performance”, and will relax you and keep you mentally “in the moment”.

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