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Practicing to Perform – Log #2

This one’s going to be a combined log from yesterday’s session and today’s.

I was thinking that I needed to record myself in order to hear myself in a more distanced way. Since I had to figure out what camera to use for a teaching video assignment, I ended up filming my two recent practice sessions.

This added another dimension of self-consciousness to my playing, which I find useful as the performance draws near. It allows me to practice the concentration required to pull off the whole piece, including the ability to keep going, musically, no matter what happens. I begin to approximate the hyper-awareness I feel when playing in front of people.

This heightened awareness brings with it a different perspective on what my whole body is doing while I play—my overall movement, how my arms are feeling, my facial expression (I don’t like seeing myself on film!), awkward technique, loss of focus, tangential thoughts, coaching thoughts.  It actually takes a lot of effort to keep thinking of the piece as I immediately process all that I have felt and heard.  It is very difficult to save judgement for later, but it is necessary in order to attain complete engagement with the music. Or maybe I try too hard to keep focused? Perhaps the thoughts just need to happen.  Allowing this is another challenge altogether.

As I played while recording, I noticed that there are places in which I actively guide myself toward musical direction. This may be a sign that I haven’t fully learned the music, or that I’m still working through what I really want to do in a section. The result, upon playback, is that there are moments when the connection between sounds needs further finessing. On the positive side (I must always to remember to note the positives!), I’m really bringing out the interplay between voices.  My contrasts are good. (Though I have just realized that the camera mic isn’t great, and so I have adjusted my touch accordingly. I have just been told, however, that my dynamic contrasts are coming out just fine, so I need not have adjusted after all). My overall sense of direction and momentum is holding the piece well, harmonically and rhythmically.

Through the video, I also noted sections in which the tempo sped up, ever so slightly. This led me to do a bit of metronome work in order to decide what speed I feel is appropriate at this time.

I also spent more time working on the releases of phrases, as at my lesson last week, the last sound of the phrase would cut off a bit abruptly. It seems I’ve got this under control now. I’ve also made the discovery that forte 3-chord slurs can be a challenge to pull off because the peak and decay of the phrase must happen within 3 beats. I tried singing while playing and this seemed to work, but my small hands really have to work to voice these big chords.

Today’s practice session worked about the same, with more focus on performing the whole piece. I had my partner and brother listen to me play to make me more anxious. Good news is that it didn’t make me more nervous, where normally this attention would have. They reported some inconsistency in some lines, which I believe have to do with the lighter touch I tried to use since I didn’t hear dynamic contrasts in the previous video. Now I know I just have to audiate and it’ll be fine. Too bad this adjustment set me back, though. Overall, however, my harshest critics thought it sounded really good! Hurray!

Some psychological questions came to me yesterday with regard to the actual performance. What is my performance goal? How do I see tomorrow’s performance fitting in to my overall piano-playing history and learning? In relation to my goal, how should I judge what I hear and feel and think while I play, as well as after?

I have never pointedly asked myself these questions, and I wonder if answering them will do me any good. Whenever I have asked something along these lines, the questions would come in passing and would barely be acknowledged, because I was afraid to dwell on the possibility of a negative outcome. Interestingly, it requires effort to picture a positive outcome, but picturing a disaster comes so easily!

Anyway, since I’ve asked…

Tomorrow’s performance will simply be a way for me to see how much of my work can result in an expressed musicality. (And truthfully, I have not had much practice time last term, and last week I only got 3 or 4 hours all week; this week, about the same). I’m curious to know how comfortable I am, at this point, with this piece being heard by my colleagues, who probably get more opportunity to perform than I do (my program has a greater focus on research and writing). So in terms of positioning tomorrow’s playing, it will be a moment from which to learn. My goal, however, is to let go of the music by enjoying it as I play. It is such a strange phenomenon to have people watch you try to enjoy music. It feels almost voyeuristic. Perhaps it is this feeling I have always had, that playing music is such a personal sharing, that makes me feel most vulnerable. It makes sense, then, that a musician can become so anxious and even overly self-critical. Anxious, because it is such a display of emotion, and self-critical in an effort to present only the best.

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