Thursday, June 9, 2011

To Perform Or Not..?

I have had reservations about playing because as a perfectionist,  I grew to believe for many years that there was nothing worth showing unless a work was 100%. And to have been born into a musical family, performing at a recital or concert hall was rather nerve-wrecking due to the high expectations imposed on me and the pressure of keeping up with surrounding musical prodigies, competition winners and piano students who were offered full scholarships to study abroad. One senior scored a full 100% at a distinguished Performer's Diploma examination with only one word in the comment form - BRAVO!! These were my very humble friends I got to know very well and who were visiting my home a few days a week. In my culture too, praises are few and far between and performing was often associated to "showing off" so in many ways, I felt self conscious and rather inhibited.

But for the last few years, my perspective has changed quite a bit when it dawned on me that music comes from the heart and is meant to be shared regardless of skill level. Of course that's not to say that one should never aspire to improve and train to meet the musical and technical demands of a given piece. But I view playing as an opportunity to share and be opened to constructive critiscms. A chance for the pianist to bring his/her performance to a new level of musical depth and technical proficiency, possible through one's humility and by the grace and kindness of fellow musicians who share the same love for the art.

Today, I encourage even my youngest students to perform for friends and family and I'm really happy that the students have so many opportunities to play at recitals and festivals. Last week, I delighted at the news of one of my students performing via skype to relatives in Europe. I learn to offer positive comments along with suggestions and tips as I like to put, rather than "constructive criticisms" to keep the students motivated.

I'm wondering how teachers feel about performing and sharing their music. Were you exposed to performing from a young age? Would love to hear your thoughts :)


  1. I'm the type of person who hates to be centre stage - I prefer supportive roles where the limelight isn't on me. However, I don't want my students to develop the same debilitating anxiety when it comes to performing. I do the same as you - they frequently need to perform in front of family and friends (even their stuffed animals, if need be!), and I set up several recitals each year. Some are more formal, but most of my recitals are really just "parties" where the kids can get together and share their music in a supportive, non-competitive environment. I'm determined that they not be afraid of performing!

  2. Tanya, thanks for leaving your thoughts. I can't agree more to your comment about providing performance opportunities and encouraging students to share their music. Through the process they build confidence and a healthy self esteem that helps them express their music easily. Many of my students actually look forward to inviting their friends to watch them play :)

  3. I am definitely a "behind the scenes" person, and solo piano performances scare me. to. death. However, I have determined to overcome that and not let it hinder me all my life! I play for church every Sunday on a grand that is elevated on the stage, so I have to do solo offertories often. Also, I am working on my grade 10 with RCM, and I know I won't get that without solo piano. I am learning bit by bit what helps me perform better, but the biggest one that helps me every time is "getting lost in the music." I find I make fewer mistakes when I approach the piano with confidence and really let the music move me as I play.
    I also encourage my students to play for family and friends, and several of them did this past Christmas and were so proud of themselves. I have one adult, though, that is particularly like me in her fears of being in front of people. The truth is, though, some people weren't made to be on stage, so I don't try to force them up there before they are ready. If everyone were on stage, who would the audience be?

  4. I couldn't agree more, Wendy. Besides recitals and encouraging "home performances", I often have my students perform at the end of their lesson (once the song is in pretty decent shape) for either their parents or the next student. I also find that playing for my students, myself, has a great effect. Saying something to the effect of "What if we end our lesson a few minutes early today? I'd really like to play this piece I've been working on for you. It's not perfect yet, but I need to practice performing in front of someone. Would you mind listening?" Or, sometimes, I'll be practicing before the first student of the day arrives & I'll start the lesson with a "performance" of what I've just been working on. It usually gets the lesson off to a good start, as well.

  5. Thank you Leah and Stace for your comments, I enjoy reading your thoughts on performing and I wonder if one's anxiety may have stemmed from a late exposure to performing. I'm going to add this question to my post....would be quite interesting to know :)

  6. Wendy, I think that is a very valid conclusion!! I took piano lessons all my life but was never "allowed" to play in front of people until I was 18. I could have been a church pianist as an early teen, but my parents and others felt that it was showing off (as you mentioned) to do so. So then I went to college and had all these opportunities, and I was scared to death. It is something that I still have to work on (and sometimes even have to do breathing techniques to keep my heart rate down). I am always amazed when I see young children play and they don't seem nervous at all- it's probably because performing is a normal part of their life from an early age.

  7. Thanks Leah, I agree that children are such natural performers when given the opportunity to express themselves with parents cheering them on. I was also only exposed in my teens mostly because I had to "prove myself" first....and I agree it wasn't quite a comfortable experience at that time. Took a long time for me to get over this and focus on "letting the music speak"..


Thank you for your comments and thoughts, I enjoy reading them

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