How to overcome stage fright

Some of my confident piano students admitted to “nerves” or “stage fright.”

This is not uncommon for first time performers.

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Concert etiquette for performers

When you google “concert etiquette” you get tips on how to behave as a member of the audience. This article is not about that. It’s about how performers should behave so that the audience will appreciate the performance.

I asked my piano students how they felt when the performing student didn’t bow or look at them when he/she got on stage and off/stage. They weren’t quite sure.

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Real-time crisis management of concert performers

Giving concert is all about real-time crisis management. There are many surprises: venue, instruments, acoustics, staff, audience, traffic.

Recently I found myself describing the busiest period of our duo’s life as that of real-time crisis management. Each concert was real-time. Each concert held surprises. We could never fully anticipate  what might go wrong. It took a lot of practice (giving concerts) to get good at dealing with the unexpected.

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Reasons for busking

Performers need to perform to an audience. Busking is a way to play outdoors to an audience though payment is not guaranteed.

My instinctive reaction to Bekkers’ declaration “I’m going into town to play on the streets” was multi-fold.

  • Don’t you have something better to do? Your list of joys is long and winding. We have so much to do before we travel again. Shouldn’t be rehearsing our new repertoire? Can you really afford the time to go busking?
  • Does it make economic sense? There’s no certainty how much you will make, why risk it?
  • Are you hoping someone important and influential will discover you and make you famous? What are the chances of someone like that being there just when you are playing?
  • Outdoors in town is noisy and not an ideal environment for the classical guitar. Will you play at your optimal? Will people be able to hear you?
  • Surely you should be playing in a concert, on a stage — inflated value of scarcity — and not out in the open where anyone can hear you and not pay for it.

Maybe I am just jealous that he can take his guitar anywhere he wants and play it. I need a piano which I cannot carry. When I stayed in hotels, I played on the pianos available but I didn’t expect to be paid. Before I bought my Steinway, every time I spotted a grand piano I’d want to try it. But that was not busking.

Bekkers sensed my reservations.

“I’m a musician,” he said. “I have to perform even when there are no concerts booked. I would rather be outside playing than indoors studying. You know it’s different playing to an audience than to yourself.”

Soon after he arrived on the island of Maui in late 2010, Bekkers practised his daily scales and exercises outdoors in the nearby park. Later he took the guitar to the beach. That was not busking. That was outdoor study. How is busking different? [See next post.]

Robert Bekkers at the beach in Wailea, Maui, March 2011
Robert Bekkers at the beach in Wailea, Maui, March 2011

 

 

When piano practice becomes performance

Finding a piano is difficult on Maui. Finding a room to practise can prove tricky when there are eager listeners. Practice becomes performance in the presence of an audience.

There are two places I practise on Maui: the classroom with electric pianos and the community centre with an upright piano. I cannot reserve these rooms. Over time, I have come to learn when the rooms are available.

On Tuesday and Friday afternoons, I use the classroom. On other days, I try my luck at the community centre nearby.

Yesterday (Wednesday), I found three music books in the local library. I could not wait to sightread “Opera’s Greatest Melodies” at the community centre. But an activity was taking place, as evident from the lack of parking space. Today, however, the centre was dark and unoccupied.

I switched on the light, opened the piano lid, sat down, and started to practise. A gardener stopped and listened. After “Miss Celie’s Blues” I heard an eruption of applause behind me.

My practice turned into a performance.

From performance to entertainment

Classical musicians are trained to perform not entertain. However, increasingly audiences want entertainment. Is there a compromise?

At conservatory, we’re taught to perform not entertain. Yet the world of performance is being crowded out by demand for entertainment.

Famous classical pieces take on new meaning after they have been chosen as themes for movies. Chopin’s posthumous Nocturne in C sharp minor reminds us of the movie “The Pianist.” Whenever I play it, I think of that tragic atmosphere of loss and hopelessness.

Debussy’s Clair de Lune accompanies that delicate moment when Bella visits Edward for the first time. My friend in Denver wants me to play it exactly the way it sounds in the Twilight movie.

Or is simply that classical music takes on a new context when used in situations that bear meaning to us?

Would it be a compromise on our training and eternal quest for beauty and perfection to abdicate performance and embrace entertainment?

Or should we pay attention to what our listeners want? They want to hear those tunes that remind them of the good times in their lives, the movies they love, the weddings they attended (or perhaps their own). We as musicians can easily execute that.

To us, Pachelbel’s Canon in D may be a performance. To them, it’s entertainment — reminding them of the theme from “Ordinary People.”

My friend in DC sent me the following clip of the most popular string quartet in Poland. They are popular because they are entertaining. But more importantly, they are virtuosic, creative, and fun! Mozart would be laughing at this. Click on Mozart Group.

In short, a performance can be entertaining. But to differentiate ourselves and to draw audiences, we as performing artists may need to do more than interpret the music the way we think the composers expect their works to be played.