If you missed the first two entries in this series, find them here (Concerto Preparation, Concerto Rehearsal). This post is the third of three that discuss the process of preparation, rehearsal, and performance for a concerto.
You’ve prepared and detailed everything to the best of your ability. You’ve rehearsed and polished the piece with the ensemble. You’ve mentally compromised on in-rehearsal battles (a figure of speech, of course), some that you’ve fought and won, some that you’ve fought and lost, and some that you opted not to fight at all. The piece is finally as good as it is going to get. Whether or not you’re in love with how things sound and feel, your primary responsibility is to deliver an exciting and engaging musical product that will “wow” the audience. Hide any insecurities behind performance vibe and your poker face. Now, it’s time to perform.
If you have a pre-performance ritual, go for it. If not, that’s okay too. I’ve never had one because every situation is different, and I wouldn't want to get weird vibes if I didn’t have enough time to see it through.
Show up early enough to get your mind right, but not so early that you get anxious. I would say 20-30 mins before the start of the show, since you’ll probably be waiting another 10-15 minutes for the first piece to end.
When it’s time to go on stage, walk out confidently, with purpose, head up, and smiling. Stop in a central location, survey the audience from left to right, and properly bow. Walk to your first (perhaps only) station, take a second to breathe and mentally prepare, pick up your sticks or mallets, and look at the conductor when you’re ready to go. If you start the piece without the conductor, wait for silence in the hall, ensure that the conductor is ready, and then go.
The most important thing when you’re performing a concerto is to maintain SELF-CONTROL. None of that tedious preparation and rehearsal matters if you turn your brain off and change what you’ve been doing. You’re going to be nervous. You’re going to be anxious. Maybe it goes away after 15 seconds, or maybe it takes 8 minutes. It doesn’t matter. You cannot drastically rush, slow down, or pull phrases in weird ways that will throw people off. This requires self-awareness, even in the face of a very stressful situation. If the conductor gets worried, the ensemble will get worried, and then everyone will play for their lives.
How do you avoid this?
Think of it as a checklist. If you know that in measure 20, you worked on playing a bit behind to make sure your alignment with the trumpets’ sixteenth notes was spot on, then use it as a checkpoint. Once you nail this first checkpoint, it will boost your confidence and mentally allow you to relax a bit. If you hit enough of these checkpoints, you’ll start feeling like you’re just rehearsing again, and your mental tension will dissipate. The sooner you relax on stage, the better and more comfortable the performance will be.
Admittedly, I always give 10% more during a performance. Whether that’s performance vibe, dynamics, or during the cadenza, I can’t help myself. It’s fun, and your energy will transfer to both the ensemble and audience. But, when giving this extra effort, you must choose wisely. Do your best to avoid putting energy into tempo or anything else that could cause the performance to fall apart. You’ll know the situation and be able to make a good call.
Now, time for a reality check.
Something is going to go wrong. In fact, several things are going to go wrong. And once “panic mode” is engaged and your fight or flight response takes over, everything will depend on how well you prepared.
Every mistake warrants a different response in order to recover quickly and inconspicuously. Perhaps you drop 3 sixteenth notes and reenter seamlessly. Maybe you allow yourself to bonk a few wrong notes, because the ensemble isn’t playing and any silence in a perpetual motion section would be suspicious. Or, maybe you’re playing a drum lick and have to improvise a few drum patterns—no big deal. Each situation is different, and your training, mental fortitude, and preparation will determine the appropriate solution.
Once the performance concludes, put your sticks/mallets down and return to the central part of the stage for your bows. Hopefully you've discussed how this will go with the conductor beforehand, but if not, I would recommend something like:
Shake conductor’s hand, thank them
Acknowledge audience left and right, bow (first two bullets could be reversed?)
Look back and acknowledge/thank ensemble
Look back to audience, acknowledge and bow
Walk off with conductor
Generally, you will return for another set(s) of bows
An encore is also a possibility; have something prepared
That’s it! The gig is done, and you just rocked the house. Soak it all in afterwards. Go meet some of the audience members in the lobby, thank the members of the ensemble individually when you see them backstage, and make sure everyone understands how grateful you are for the opportunity.
Go eat some nice food, have a drink, and SLEEP!
Message or email me if you have any questions, comments, or just want to chat about this!
Thanks for reading,