Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Performing and Doing Your Best

Here's a link you might find interesting:

Joshua Bell on Messing Up His First Violin Competition

Sometimes it's healthy to know that even very fine musicians make mistakes like the rest of us.

What is more important is how we deal with those mistakes.  Bravo to Bell for telling his story!

At some points in my life I've felt nervous when performing simply because I was afraid to make mistakes
in front of an audience. The simple act of one mistake could derail me mentally for the rest of the piece and
 compound errors. After lots of performing and even more thinking about this,  I realized I was putting
fear of mistakes above the joy/responsibility to communicate great music. I  think I'd now be most
nervous if  I didn't have anything to SAY with my music.  This has completely changed how I practice
 and study scores.  Once I KNOW I have something to express,  then I'm focused on that and try my best
 to share my music with an audience and ENJOY,  truely ENJOY performing.

Some questions I use to help me learn a piece come from France's Clark's Tests of Interpretation.
Elaine Douvas, the wonderful oboist/pedagogue from Juilliard and The Met Opera Orchestra gave
me these when I studied with her.  My students regularly get grilled on these questions too---in their
weekly lesson sheets I ask if they'd answered each of the questions. Some students see this as a useless
routine,  getting in the way of learning the notes,  but just learning the notes isn't the point of our
studies AT ALL!  Studying the structure, meaning, and expressive elements of a piece are the keys to
 understanding a work and being able to communicate it to an audience.

Here are some important questions to ask yourself concerning musical expression, adapted from
 Elaine Douvas and Frances Clark’s Tests of Interpretation.

Overall, what is the character of this piece?
What do I want to express?
Where is the highpoint of the entire piece?
Do I sufficiently prepare for it and give it the suspense and effect that it requires?
Where is the highpoint of each phrase?
 If I can’t feel the highpoint of the phrase, do I sing suitable words to it in
an effort to capture its message?
  Does everything that I do sound authoritative?
Do I begin each phrase clearly, cleanly, and expressively?
 Do I let each phrase end sufficiently before beginning another?

 Is the long rhythmic pulse of the piece set at the beginning and held steadily throughout?
 Do I avoid making overly exaggerated ritards? Do I revitalize the tempo immediately after a ritard?
If playing the accompaniment, does it give true, basic vitality to the composition?
Do I give full value to all the final beats in the measure or do I hurry into the
next measure, thereby impairing the pulse?
Is there a tremendous difference between my fortissimos and pianissimos
with infinite gradations between the extremes?
Do my crescendos start softly enough and my acccelerandos deliberately enough?
Do all of my notes have a singing quality? Especially in the upper notes?
Do I give repeated notes and sequences careful treatment?
Is there something of interest going on at all times?
If I stop playing the melody, do I make something of the accompaniment?

I hope these questions help you too!

Oboe and out,


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