Weekly Recital Practice

January 05, 2013

Just before Christmas I participated in a studio recital. For a variety of reasons my piece was not ready for performance and, while I managed to play it, I was not happy with the result.

Many years ago when I was teaching in the dojo we used to say it was important to "practice for success". By which we meant the challenges doled out had to be achievable. Maybe not on every single attempt, but a high enough percentage of the time that the student could master the challenge.

Each of my recital performances over the past 3 years has been of my most recent piece, with one exception. My most recent piece has never been fully mastered by the recital, which adds stress to an already stressful situation. The one time where an older piece was chosen (Berceuse) we changed the fingering to avoid open A string notes, requiring I re-learn the piece using a new fingering on short notice.

These recital experiences are not practicing for success. There are two things I hope to change this year that improve my recital performances and allow me to master the challenge of performing.

First I want to choose my recital piece weeks or months ahead of time. Based on prior experience I know there will be a recital at the end of the spring semester, about 15 or 16 weeks from now. I've just started Minuet 1 from the G Major cello suite by J. S. Bach, along with Chanson Triste by Tchaikovsky. I'm already playing all the way through the Minuet; it just seemed to click the first night I played it. If, and this is a major if, I can learn Minuet 2 by the middle of March, I would then have roughly six weeks to polish the pair for a performance in May.

The Tchaikovsky is also a possibility for a May performance. Musically it isn't complicated; the challenge is reading the piece in tenor clef. Again, if I have the piece well in hand by March, then I would be satisfied to play it in May.

Knowing the piece well enough to play it at home or for my teacher is one thing, being able to play for an audience is quiet another. I have played in eight or nine recitals now. Each time I've been surprised at the difficulty in performing for others. What I need, in order to be successful, is more practice at performing. Sibylle has written a wonderful article about the differences between playing for fun, practicing, and performing. Nearly all of my cello experience falls into playing or practicing. An insignificant amount of time has been devoted to practicing to perform.

Starting tomorrow I plan on giving a weekly recital at home. I'll change my clothes (button down shirts are more restrictive than tee-shirts) and play my intended recital piece in a different part of the house from where I practice. I'll use chairs of differing heights (so I'll have to adjust my endpin). I'll bow, announce my piece, sit, and then perform. More bowing afterwards. There will be a video camera recording me. Sibylle will be there to watch.

The point is to go into my next recital with 15 (or more) dress rehearsals. I want as much of the experience as possible to feel normal and usual, rather than extraordinary and stressful.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.