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#1118920 - 12/01/06 05:08 PM Dress rehearsal turned into a recital...
Colin Dunn Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/05
Posts: 555
Loc: Arvada, CO
In preparation to play a recital for some of my friends (this coming Sunday), my piano teacher scheduled me for a "dress rehearsal" playing my recital program at another one of his students' houses. I was in store for a surprise...

The other student was a middle-aged, well-to-do attorney. I pulled up to a very large, imposing colonial home perched on top of a hill. With his family decorating the house for Christmas, a fire burning in the fireplace, and cold windy weather outside, I felt like I was stepping into a "storybook" Christmas scene set in the Northeast. All that was missing was snow...

The piano was a Steinway B. My hosts said they had bought it a few years ago, and that it had originally been made in the 1980s. But it seemed to have much more of an "old piano" character. They told me their piano tech said the piano was due for new hammers. Perhaps this was why the piano had a slightly "hard" sounding attack.

Unbeknownst to me, the hosts decided to make a party out of the occasion, and invited several of their friends over. Their friends were very well-educated, well-dressed, and financially successful, and knew at least as much as I did about the musical repertoire. It became apparent that they were expecting a recital, not just a dress rehearsal!!!

While everyone was in the next room sampling some wine, I sat down at the Steinway and started warming up. My warmup started out badly, with me missing notes in pieces I had played just fine earlier in the day. I ran through a few passages of music just to get familiar with the piano's action, which was much heavier than the instruments I usually practice on.

Then came time to play. The first piece (Maple Leaf Rag) went OK until the last section, and then I had a couple of stumbles. But at least I was able to recover from them and keep the music going.

It took getting through a couple or three pieces to get my jangling nerves under control, but then things came together. I worked my way through a varied program (perhaps ambitious for a late-beginning to early-intermediate pianist) including:

Joplin - Maple Leaf Rag
Debussy - Sarabande
Beethoven - Second movement of "Pathetique" Sonata
Poulenc - 1st and 2nd movements of "Mouvements Perpetuales"
Bach - Two-Part Invention #4
Handel - Hornpipe II from "Water Music"
Nazareth - Odeon (a Brazilian tango)
"Seasons of Love" from "Rent"
And two Dave Brubeck arrangements of Christmas carols: "What Child is This" and "Winter Wonderland"

After the first couple of pieces, my nerves quieted down, and the pieces started to flow. I don't remember much about the middle part of the performance, except that I kept playing piece after piece and interspersing it with bits of conversation with the audience about the composers and music. I wrapped up playing some difficult Dave Brubeck arrangements of Christmas carols the best I'd ever played them!

By the end of the rehearsal / recital, I was happy but exhausted.

The hosts then played a duet arrangement of the Pachelbel Canon in D, which was quite nice to unwind to after playing nearly an hour of music.

Then my piano teacher sat down at the piano, and showed EVERYONE in the room how it's *really* done. He took a few requests - Bach's "Air on a G String," the Ukrainian Bell Carol, and a couple of other carols and hymns - and then proceeded, without any sheet music, to play a new-age-style improvisational rendition of ALL those pieces, tied together seamlessly.

After busting my butt for a year to get my recital program ready, I'm not sure I even can comprehend how someone can memorize large amounts of repertoire, and be able to improvise and tie it all together on the spur of a moment. So much more to learn, so little time to live...

All in all, the evening went well. Everyone seemed to enjoy the music, even though I'm an intermediate piano student and not an accomplished professional pianist.

But does anyone have any thoughts on how to fix those last-minute problems that crop up a few days before a recital? I play the whole program again on Sunday, and want to clean up a few glitches by then. The "glitches" seem to be just random mistakes that come up in a performance setting, as I've played those same parts of the music cleanly many times before in practice.
Colin Dunn

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#1118921 - 12/01/06 05:26 PM Re: Dress rehearsal turned into a recital...
Peyton Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/02/06
Posts: 2845
Loc: Maine

That is awesome. I admire you just for getting through it much less actually doing a good job. That's quite a program...you must have felt like a pro.
"One's real life is often the life that one does not lead."- Oscar Wilde

#1118922 - 12/01/06 05:31 PM Re: Dress rehearsal turned into a recital...
LiszThalberg Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/13/06
Posts: 3288
The nerves would have gotten to me... ;\)

#1118923 - 12/01/06 05:35 PM Re: Dress rehearsal turned into a recital...
SAnnM AB 2001 Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/20/04
Posts: 2024
Loc: Canada
I'm so sorry that, since I've NEVER performed in a recital or played anything more than 1 or 2 pieces in front of 1 or 2 people (very poorly I might add) ....., I don't have any words of wisdom to offer (others will I'm sure). I just wanted to say that I enjoyed your story very much and could picture that house and the guests sampling wine as you warmed up.

An hour of music!! wow! Awesome!!

I recently went through my "repertoire" and could only muster up about 20 minutes of memorized music... Do you play from memory? Of course for me, it wouldn't matter if the music was in front of me. I still couldn't manage more than 20 minutes....

Congratulations! I'm sure your "real" recital will be wonderful. I've some questions. I hope you don't mind. Did you request this recital, or did your friends? Have you done this before? If not, what prompted you? How many will be there? Is it casual - at your house?

I'm at sort of a mid-late-intermediate level (my teacher actually called me advanced today!!! teeehehee I think he meant more advanced than his other 2 adult students).... My current...ok one of my current...problems (music related \:D there are many others) is performance anxiety and I flip flop from feeling like "Who cares? I'm really only doing this for myself" to "I really want to share what I've learned" and ok...let's be honest, I'm a little bit proud of my accomplishments and would like to show off just a little bit....sometimes....When I'm feeling confident - which is not often enough.

So.... How did you decide to perform for your friends? How long have you been preparing and what is the environment like? i.e., Your place? others playing too? Formal? Did you invite them specifically to a recital or will you just "happen to play" while they are there?...

Sorry for all the questions but this is one of my (many) obstacles in my piano journey and I'm constantly in awe of those who overcome (or never have) these problems.
It's the journey not the destination..

#1118924 - 12/01/06 05:57 PM Re: Dress rehearsal turned into a recital...
Piano Again Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/12/04
Posts: 1173
Loc: Washington metro
That sounds like a great experience. My advice on the stumbles: try to remember where they were and go over those places (plus the lead-ins to them) very slowly. I often find that what causes such problems (at least for me) is a combination of rushing and being a little unsure of what fingering I want to use. Sometimes it boils down to an uncertain transition from one note to another, which then throws off the rest of the passage.

And BTW, where did you find the Dave Brubeck arrangements?
Recovering cellist, amateur pianist.

Check out my blog !

#1118925 - 12/01/06 06:46 PM Re: Dress rehearsal turned into a recital...
Colin Dunn Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/05
Posts: 555
Loc: Arvada, CO
Piano Again -

My piano teacher actually found the Brubeck arrangements, in a book entitled "Selections from a Dave Brubeck Christmas." I don't have the book in front of me right now, but later on tonight I can post more detailed information for anyone who wants to seek out this book.

Last night, as an early Christmas gift, he gave me a book called "Jingle Jazz," with other jazz arrangements of Christmas carols. I haven't had a chance to read through anything in that book yet, but it looks interesting...

Sandy -

I had the sheet music for the entire program. Some of the pieces are probably close to memorized (the Debussy piece, Maple Leaf Rag, the Bach two-part invention). Usually if I practice a piece enough to make it recital-ready, I just happen to memorize most of it in the process. However, I doubt I could play the whole program from memory.

This will be the second recital I have done for friends. The first one was one I did after about 18 months back at the piano - in December 2004. I played that recital at home and combined it with a wine-and-cheese reception to 'bribe' my friends to show up. \:\)

This time, my piano is in Dallas being rebuilt. It still isn't finished, so I'm doing this recital at a church, then progressing to my place for the reception.

I did the 2004 recital at the suggestion of my piano teacher (at the time). Some of my friends started bugging me around the holidays in 2005 asking if I was going to have another recital, but I didn't have enough material ready, so I played a couple of pieces for them, and decided I'd do a recital for the holidays this year.

The most difficult thing about doing a recital, for me, is dealing with nervousness when it's time to perform. I'm not sure where this came from, because I didn't get recital nerves when I was taking lessons as a kid (aged 8-13). The nervousness gives me cold and shaky hands that end up missing notes that came easily just hours or days earlier in practice.

I think my nervousness in the "dress rehearsal" was compounded by a couple of surprises. The storybook-like house was probably worth $2 million (and that's in Texas, where housing costs are lower than most of the US). Stepping into a picture-perfect home with acres of marble floors, lots of colonial-style trim and moldings, 12-foot-high ceilings, and a Steinway was a little intimidating for this very middle-class amateur pianist.

I also thought I'd be playing for the attorney (himself an intermediate-to-advanced level pianist), his wife, and his kids (who are beginning-level students through the same teacher). So the pressure to perform well got kicked up a notch when three of their friends showed up for the performance.

The "real" recital shouldn't have these kinds of surprises, but I will have about 25 friends in the audience, and of course will feel the pressure to give them a good musical performance...
Colin Dunn

#1118926 - 12/01/06 07:26 PM Re: Dress rehearsal turned into a recital...
LisztAddict Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/12/05
Posts: 2897
Loc: Florida
Originally posted by Colin Dunn:
.......the piano had a slightly "hard" sounding attack........piano's action, which was much heavier than the instruments I usually practice on.[/b]
I think that's S&S B signature. I've played on many Bs and most of them are like that.

Originally posted by Colin Dunn:
want to clean up a few glitches by then. [/b]
Don't worry about them, the more you think about them, the more likely they will pop up during your performance. Just go by your normal practice routine between now and Sunday.

#1118927 - 12/01/06 07:41 PM Re: Dress rehearsal turned into a recital...
NancyM333 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/06/06
Posts: 1550
Loc: Roswell, Georgia
I played a recital (my teacher made me do it!) for my friends about 3 years ago. It was about an hour's worth of music, memorized, that I had to play for a judge later that week. The friends were much more nerve-wracking than the judge! I never want to do that again!

Anyway, I do play in a recital twice a year with the other adult students of my teacher. I am obsessed with trying to make those performances more satisfying to me, so I've tried many strategies. Some may help you:

First, mark all the troublesome spots and play them until they're the best part of your pieces.

The real problem is that some spots creep up that weren't a problem before. For me, I imagine that it takes about 99% of my brain power to play the piano, and at home, on my own piano, in my jeans, I can devote 99% to it. But at a recital, part of my brain power goes to thinking about my shoes squeaking, how odd my teacher's piano feels, that maybe my hair looks weird from the back, that I feel weak and dizzy from nerves, etc. So I have tried to work on this problem by trying to practice at home with less than 99% of my brain power. A little pressure shows where the weaks spots are. Recording myself is a great way. I also go to a neighbor and tell her I want to play something for their family (almost every neighbor has a piano, so I make them all suffer with this equally!). I play with my dress clothes on. And most importantly, I go and practice several times, including the day of the performance on my teacher's piano. I imagine where everyone will be sitting, the distractions I might face, etc. I have also found that being hungry mimics how I feel when I'm nervous, so I try to run to the piano whenever I get that shaky-hungry feeling so I can capitalize on it by figuring out where it's going to mess me up.

Like I said, the key is finding the weak spots and strengthening them before you play. I went and played Vladimir Horowitz's piano when it was on a promotional tour here last week, and I played the piece I will play at my next recital, the one that I can't seem to make a mistake on at home. Well, I pulled a total blank in a section, and naturally it's a section that repeats, so I worried about the repeat and flubbed it to. It's part of the learning process, I guess.

I'm really impressed you could go through with that whole performance. That is my worst nightmare! I always want to say to the audience, "Please don't expect much--I would rather have you expect me to be awful and be pleasantly surprised that I'm somewhere above that than expect me to be great and fall short."

Congratulations and good luck!


Estonia 168, Yamaha UX3

#1118928 - 12/02/06 12:28 AM Re: Dress rehearsal turned into a recital...
Colin Dunn Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/05
Posts: 555
Loc: Arvada, CO
Piano again -

Here's the information about that Brubeck Christmas book I promised...

Title - "Selections from a Dave Brubeck Christmas"
Publisher - Warner Bros. Publications - Warner Music Group, 15800 N.W. 48th Avenue, Miami, FL 33014
ISBN - 0-7692-1554-8
UPC code - 29156 67039
Suggested retail price: $12.95

LisztAddict -

Interesting you mention that thinking about trouble spots causes problems to happen. I've observed this happening in my practice sessions, lessons, and performance. I get to thinking: "uh oh, here comes that tough part," and then ... flub. \:\( It seems that when I've practiced those sections thorougly, and am NOT thinking about trouble spots, that things often go more smoothly...

NancyM -

The thought of recording myself playing the piano seems way more terrifying than performing for an audience! If I made a recording, I would listen to it, and hear all the imperfections in the performance. \:\( Some day I will have to get over this fear and actually record / play back one of my piano performances ... but the thought absolutely scares the crap out of me...


As for my practice session tonight - I decided to go back to the trouble spots I encountered in the Thursday performance, slowed down the tempo, and worked back up to performance tempo. This forced me to review the trouble passages at least 10 times for each, as I kept playing them and gradually increasing the tempo.

Tomorrow, I will run through the whole program again so it is fresh in my mind for Sunday.
Colin Dunn

#1118929 - 12/02/06 03:44 AM Re: Dress rehearsal turned into a recital...
ShiroKuro Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/26/04
Posts: 3985
Loc: not in Japan anymore
ARGH!!! I had almost finished writing a very long and carefully written response when I had a finger slip and lost the entire thing! I HATE it when that happens. Alright, I'll try to rewrite it, but it's not going to be as good. \:\(

First of all, Colin, Bravo! It sound slike you did an excellent job in a very nerve-racking situation. I am sure your performance on Sunday will go great. Since your concert is tomorrow, here are a few things I would recommend to you at this point.

Things you might try before this recital: [/b]
1) Remind yourself that you have nothing to prove. The audience is full of friends, people who liked you before the recital, and will still like you afterwards. You're not trying to show them how good you are, it's not about you or your piano abilities. It's about the music. You want to share that music with the audience, that's your only goal.

2) If your hands shake, don't dwell on it. Assume it's going to happen and when you see/feel the shaking just acknowledge it and bring your focus back the music.

3) You have a very long program, maintain concentration will be a challenge I'm guessing. I find that my concentration is pretty fickle and when it slipped, I used to berate myself while playing. "I shouldn't be thinking about that! I've got to concentration. What is my problem!" Now if my concentration slips, I know that's only natural and I just try to bring it back to the music, rather than criticizing myself or lamenting that it slipped in the first place. So for me, a performance is like a series of "re-focusing" myself, rather than one continuously maintain period of concentration.

4) The evening before the recital, play your pieces very slowly, maybe even hands-separate or without the pedal or something. If you don't want to play the entire piece slowly (and you very well might not) play through in a simulated recital. Make a note of where there were any problems. Then before you put the score away, play just those trouble spots, very slowly.

5) When you make a mistake during the recital (and you will) just let it go the second it happens. Chance are no one will notice it, so don't point it out to people by letting it show on your face or by stopping or going back and re-playing. Just play through, no matter what. The mistakes might seem glaring to you, but by playing through, you will minimize them more than you can imagine.

6) Exercise on recital day. This advice was given to my by EHpianist, a professional pianist who sometimes posts her. She explained it this way: Nerves and shaky hands are the result of energy and adrenaline. Our bodies only have so much energy and adrenaline at once. By exercising enough to have the heart rate up and be a little out of breath, we use up some of the energy and adrenaline we have for that day. When concert time comes, the initial burst of nerves and energy is damped by the fact that it's the second time that day to be out of breath and heart-racing. I aim for 15 to 20 minutes, I don't want to over-tire myself, but just get a little warmed up and out of breath. I have found this to be an excellent method for me, and I highly recommend it because it's something you can do now for this recital (because it needs no extra preparation.)

If you are interested, here are some things you might try for future recitals. You might even want to not read this now, but come back to it after this recital.

Things you might try for future recitals[/b]
1) Read "The Inner Game of Music" by Barry Green (if you haven't already.) A lot of what I wrote above are things I learned from this book. This book has helped me really change my mental approach to music, and it's something that I try to put into practice (no pun intended) at every practice session. Improving my mental approach has made a big improvement both in how I perform and also in how I learn and complete new music. But a lot of what this book has to teach us are things that we need to work on and develop over time, so it's something you'd want to do well in advance.

2) Schedule your rehearsal so that it's at least a week before the recital.

3) Have more than one rehearsal with audience.

4) Get your recital pieces performance-ready a month before the recital, then spend the last month fine-tuning and also just playing in addition to practicing.

5) Memorize the pieces that you can play them score-less, get to this point 5 weeks before the recital. Spend a week playing the pieces without the score. Then (assuming you plan to play with the score at the recital) go back to the score and spend the last month playing with the score and occasionally checking that you still have it all memorized.

6) Utilize slow play in your practices, for the last month, finish each practice with slow play, and then start each practice session as if it was the recital, do one run through (or pick a selection if your recital program is too long) to play as if it were the performance. Make a note of the trouble spots, isolate and eliminate them.

7) Train yourself to play through mistakes, no stopping. Develop your own style of how to keep the music flowing, how to have seemless recovery from mistakes. Then if you do have last-minute mistakes that pop up that you can't correct in time, you can just sail through them.

8) Use visualization when you practice, assume you're performing and imagine yourself doing a very good job. Visualize the hall, the people, your clothes etc, so that by the time you actually do your recital you've already done over a 100 "mental-recitals."

Well, I think I got it all, even if there's less detail than before I lost the first draft! :p

Good luck Colin! I think you'll do great, but I look forward to your coming back here and posting a report!

Sunday is the day of my rehearsal for my concert which is next Sunday (dec 10th) so I'll be trying to follow my own advice as much as possible!
Started piano June 1999. My recordings at Box.Net:

#1118930 - 12/02/06 08:43 AM Re: Dress rehearsal turned into a recital...
NancyM333 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/06/06
Posts: 1550
Loc: Roswell, Georgia
Wow--ShiroKuro, that is great advice. I have never tried to slow practice method, though I've heard about it several places. I'll do that before my next recital and see if I can do better.

Thanks for taking the time to post all that (twice).


Estonia 168, Yamaha UX3

#1118931 - 12/04/06 12:26 PM Re: Dress rehearsal turned into a recital...
Colin Dunn Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/11/05
Posts: 555
Loc: Arvada, CO
Well, I had the "real" recital yesterday. Overall, it went well, though my stumbles in "Maple Leaf Rag" were worse at the "real" recital than at the dress rehearsal \:\( . This was another one of those "random" psychological things that comes up during a performance, as I'd played the same portion of the piece many times before without stumbling.

I think in planning my next recital program, I will make sure the first few pieces are not among the more technically difficult pieces in the program. It takes me probably 2-3 pieces to get settled in and move past the nervous rush at the start of a performance. Another piece of similar length and difficulty to "Maple Leaf Rag" (Nazareth's "Odeon") went smoothly with no major stumbling.

In spite of the stumble in "Maple Leaf Rag," everyone enjoyed the program. People who had attended my previous recital two years ago said that they noticed my musicianship had improved significantly, and that I was playing more challenging repertoire.

Now, I will take a short break until my next lesson, and then preparations for next year's recital will begin. \:\)
Colin Dunn

#1118932 - 12/04/06 08:27 PM Re: Dress rehearsal turned into a recital...
gabytu Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/26/05
Posts: 1522
Loc: Portland, Or.
Comgratulations Colin on having survived your dress rehearsal/recital so well. You played a nice variety of pieces, and were able to overcome your initial feeling of nervousness. Your teacher must have a lot of confidence in your playing to have invited you to perform your dress rehearsal in front of a group of strangers.

Next year you will really wow them. Gaby Tu

#1118933 - 12/04/06 08:44 PM Re: Dress rehearsal turned into a recital...
NancyM333 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/06/06
Posts: 1550
Loc: Roswell, Georgia
Great job, Colin. Was your last piece the best one you played? It's odd to me how we get nervous about playing poorly, and those very nerves cause us to play poorly. You'd think eventually we'd figure this out and not get nervous, but I haven't found the solution yet.


Estonia 168, Yamaha UX3


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