One of my teacher goals this year was to get my students to NOT feel a total cease-fire of all nervous system functionality when they perform for others. Also known as Nervous System: CODE BLUE:
- Sweaty palms: when the salt output could raise the sea level of the Mediterranean
- Stone-cold, deer-in-the-headlights, unflinching eye contact with an invisible apparatus in the upper right-hand corner of the room for the entirety of the piece being performed
- Jell-o knees and jazzercise-shifty-feet (grapevine to the right!)
- Shaky hands from 2-oz adreneline shots, Jagermeister-style
- Never-before practiced musical stylings, like experimentation with a completely random tempo, attempts at a half-made up melody, and breaths in weird places (usually the middle of words)
- Memory lapses on simple words like “the,” “an,” or pronouns like “he” or “she,” ultimately leading to the downfall of all phrases for the remainder of the song. Damn you, muscle memory.
Don’t worry, kids. I was there, too. I still am, sometimes.
In order to remedy the Great Stage Sickness of the Century, I started requiring my students to attend low-stakes performance opportunities where they could dress down, use music if necessary, stop and start when needed, etc. Some of these events are closed to students and involve workshopping or other activities. This last event was an informal showcase open to family and friends. I hired an indestructible accompanist so I could sit back and really watch and listen. I learn more in these opportunities when I’m not consumed with front-line “combat” accompanying.
My favorite moment, by far, was when my older, late-intermediate pianist played a theme and variations. She struggles with performance anxiety, and I encouraged her to take a bit of time in between each variation so she could gather her bearings. She did not do this right away, but clearly remembered when, halfway through her second variation, which started off a little rough, she shook her head slightly, then quietly and ironically whispered the word “notes” under her breath. As in, play thyselves. Do as you are told. Behave, you silly notes. Been there.
Contrary to the last studio event, I remembered to get some pictures this time. Awkward studio family photos ensued:
Don’t forget the photos, teachers. They make all the difference.
Happy Showcasing, teachers!