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Hi all,

For all intents and purposes. I’m virtually a newcomer to the Pianist board. I'm relatively infrequent poster – mostly on the piano forum.

My question has to do with performing in public. I’m a former pro (25 years ago) – used to do club and session work in NY and LA, but then took a career change. Played infrequently over the years – mostly working things up for family events, friends’ weddings, school fundraisers, that sort of thing. 2 years ago, I had an intense desire to get back into playing, and bought a grand. It’s been incredibly soul fulfilling, to just play for hours (when I can find the time!).

Well, tonight, I performed in public for the first time in I-don’t-know-how-many years. It was a low-key event (a piano enthusiast group), and I played the Chopin Scherzo No. 2. Hacked is more like it. And I’m feeling quite deflated about it. I was more than ready for the performance, feeling good about my practice sessions and run-throughs in the lead-up. Then when it was my turn, I just didn’t feel sharp. I wasn’t nervous, but the performing energy just overtook me and it was a combination of shallow playing into the keys, mental slips, and then losing discipline at times and playing too fast.

In golf terms, I felt like a driving range hero, and hack on the course.

Back to the question: can a middle-aged guy get “it” back, and what does it take? There undoubtedly are others with similar stories, and I’d love to hear what you did to get your groove back on the stage. Perhaps it’s something as simple as "just perform more", but I worry that, like an aging golfer, perhaps I’ve gotten the yips and can’t putt well anymore (sorry for all the golf metaphors – I’ll stop!). I’d like to do more performing for others (it was the sharing of music with others that was always most rewarding), but would also like to enjoy it again, and feel good about it afterwards.

If there are any suggestions, I’m all ears! Thanks –


Steve
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Originally Posted by Twindad
.....Back to the question: can a middle-aged guy get “it” back, and what does it take?....

Speaking as someone who also has lost it (with the exception that I, on the other hand, never really had it).... ha

....and therefore arguably with no expertise or credibility on the subject grin

Nevertheless I'm pretty sure I know the answer: SURE you can.

I think the clues and answers are pretty much right there in what you're saying:

Quote
Well, tonight, I performed in public for the first time in I-don’t-know-how-many years.

Quote
I just didn’t feel sharp. I wasn’t nervous, but the performing energy just overtook me and it was a combination of shallow playing into the keys, mental slips, and then losing discipline at times and playing too fast.

YOU'RE RUSTY.

I think for most performers, performing is sort of like a muscle. You need to use it pretty regularly, or else it gets weak. Indeed, as you said.....

Quote
Perhaps it’s something as simple as "just perform more"

Yes.

And not just "more," but....a couple of things.

Maybe your playing itself also isn't quite fully back up to where it can be. Even though you've been back at it for a fair while and even though you felt you were ready, I'd guess you weren't quite. You probably need just a bit more time; maybe the Scherzo wasn't quite fully ready -- like, maybe some 'hard parts' weren't as secure as they need to be. (There are a few particular parts that are highly tricky and dangerous, more so than usually given credit for.) Maybe also you'd benefit from working seriously on a little wider range of repertoire. I'm just guessing and winging it here, but, how much serious classical stuff besides Chopin have you worked on seriously in these couple of years? If you haven't also worked up some pieces by Bach or Mozart or Scarlatti, maybe also at least a couple of pieces by other Romantic composers..... I think that if you've only worked seriously on very limited repertoire, that in itself limits how solid you are. Doing more different kinds of repertoire gives extra breadth and range to our capability, and adds solidity. When we're not really solid through-and-through, our insides know it, and that leaves us wide open for nerves in a performance situation.

One other thing: Besides how ready you were, even if this venue wasn't a real big type of setting, it might have been too big of a leap for a first performance in a long time. You probably know that it's a good idea to prepare by doing something like playing first for a couple of friends, then for a somewhat larger group.... Probably you know that, and maybe you did it. But if you didn't, this venue may have been too big of a leap for right now. Maybe your basic playing is as ready as it needs to be, but you just needed to do more smaller 'tryouts' leading up to it.

And along those lines, I guess there's one other thing to add: You didn't say anything about a coach or teacher. I think for most people, no matter how accomplished they have been, they're making it harder on themselves if they don't do at least some work with a coach or teacher. Besides the obvious thing that a teacher can help you with your playing, the lessons serve as built-in tryouts, and enormously aid your confidence.

Finally: All of this said, don't worry about it that much. smile
You are fresh and raw from this performance, and everything that you're feeling is magnified. You probably did a lot of good stuff too, and with a little time, you'll probably appreciate that. And regardless, you're probably not far from being good to go.

P.S. I realize that I've been talking to myself just as much as I've been talking to you grin ....but I hope you'll find it relevant.
Good luck!!

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In golf terms, I felt like a driving range hero, and hack on the course.

I've also done that too. ha

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What Mark said, and also--everyone has "off" performances, as I'm sure you know. You just have to get back on the horse (for a break from the golf analogies) smile


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Perhaps the Chopin second Scherzo was not a good choice for a return-to-the-piano-in-a-public-performance setting. In a similar situation, I think I would have started with something a little less demanding, even though the Scherzo may well have been within my grasp during practice sessions.

More performances, yes; but perhaps less demanding repertoire for the time being until you really feel comfortable again playing in public.

Regards,


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Congratulations on getting back into playing and performing!

My guess, without having heard you, is that it was just the first performance in a long time, on a hard piece to boot. A piano enthusiast group is a great place to get used to performing again -- and a great place for frequent performers to try out new repertoire.

If the experience made you nervous about future performances then easier pieces might be a good idea for the next few times out.


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I'm less qualified than the earlier commentors to say anything relevant to you, but from my own brief experience, it seems that playing well and performing well are different things.

My worst performance experiences have involved my blind faith that I could take a piece that challenges me in practice, up to my pianistic boundaries, and succeed with it in a performance setting.

Personally, I do better when I perform pieces that I know very, very well and that are within the range of what I can do "at the drop of a hat."

I hope that after I get more experience performing, I'll recognize little difference between my approach to practice and the approach to playing in public.

For now, though, I try to stick to really comfortable repertoire when playing for others.

YMMV considerably, of course.

Last edited by ClsscLib; 08/22/16 12:03 PM.

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The more you do it, the more comfortable you'll feel. Look at it this way - If you had asked yourself what's the worst that could happen, and your answer was to completely butcher it, then perhaps the worst is behind you and it will only get better moving forward.

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Ditto Oasismfg!


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Wow! I wrote that somewhat self-indulgent (in hindsight) post in a raw state – as you stated, Mark – and I awoke to find a thoughtful and helpful response from you. Thank you. And thanks to everyone else for the additional words of wisdom (I’ve been on a plane all day and am just now able to respond).

I don’t think there’s anything that was written that is too far off base.

- I’m definitely rusty in terms of performing for others (beyond the intimate friends/family). Note to self – do it more!

- Perhaps the Scherzo was (ahem) not the best choice for a maiden voyage back onto the stage, but I do like to challenge myself.

- I definitely could benefit from a coach/teacher (but with college for 2 kids coming up in a year – see my handle – I’m trying desperately to do as much saving $$ as possible these days!). I’ll need to look into that – as even a once a month coaching would probably help significantly.

- The one thing I have done – though admittedly not enough - is to play a broad array of repertoire. In addition to the romantic pieces, I regularly read through parts of the WTC, early Beethoven sonatas (up through Waldstein), Debussy, Gerswhin (love the 3 Preludes!), and a smattering of Mozart and Haydn sonatas. Where I fall short is not really working them up to performance standard, and I know that the variety of approaches and discipline would be immensely helpful. It’s more a matter of time availability than anything else – I’ll need to figure out how to rebalance that.

More than anything else, it was a wake-up call and expectation re-setter. Intellectually, I know that I should’ve expected to be rusty, but deep down, it’s hard to let go of the (probably faulty) memory of how I used to be able to do it when I was in my early/mid 20s. Damn ego!

OK, enough of making a mountain out of a mole-hill. Onward and upward! Thanks again for the advice and encouragement.


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Originally Posted by Twindad


In golf terms, I felt like a driving range hero, and hack on the course.

Back to the question: can a middle-aged guy get “it” back, and what does it take? There undoubtedly are others with similar stories, and I’d love to hear what you did to get your groove back on the stage. Perhaps it’s something as simple as "just perform more", but I worry that, like an aging golfer, perhaps I’ve gotten the yips and can’t putt well anymore (sorry for all the golf metaphors – I’ll stop!). I’d like to do more performing for others (it was the sharing of music with others that was always most rewarding), but would also like to enjoy it again, and feel good about it afterwards.

If there are any suggestions, I’m all ears! Thanks –

Well, I don't play golf (for me, it's like "a good walk spoiled" wink ), I'm somewhat (OK, a lot) older than you - now, and even when I restarted playing a few years ago after a long absence, and then started performing (never having performed for an audience before) - and I also suffer from nerves. How much harder can it be, compared to your situation?

Quite by accident, my first performing 'gig' was a lecture-recital, for a non-classical audience. So, nobody knew the music I played (or if they heard it before, it would probably have been in the background in a posh hotel.....), therefore I easily convinced myself that it wouldn't matter how badly I played - it would still sound 'good' to them. And I was playing most of my pieces from the score, so no worries about memory lapses (I also had a script prepared as a prompt, though I actually ad-libbed my talk). And last but not least, I was playing music very familiar to me (familiar since my student years), and well within my technique. By the time I was halfway into it, I was comfortably feeling like I was just introducing good music to friends, such that when I hit a wrong note near the start of the March of Schumann's C major Fantasy (one of the wide LH rolls - which gave the wrong harmony), without thinking, I just said "sorry!" and started again from the beginning grin.

So, I'd suggest that you play informally for (non-musicians) friends and family first, maybe record yourself playing (put on a red light to make it more stressful wink ), and choose pieces that are easy for you now (and which you can play in your sleep), before playing them for piano enthusiasts who've probably heard Horowitz and Richter play the same pieces already. When you've gotten more comfortable with it and have got back to your previous performing level, you can play the harder stuff.


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Originally Posted by BruceD
Perhaps the Chopin second Scherzo was not a good choice for a return-to-the-piano-in-a-public-performance setting. In a similar situation, I think I would have started with something a little less demanding, even though the Scherzo may well have been within my grasp during practice sessions.

More performances, yes; but perhaps less demanding repertoire for the time being until you really feel comfortable again playing in public.



That was my first thought, too.

It also might help to record and listen to your playing, if you haven't done that yet.

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Originally Posted by Twindad
I wasn’t nervous, but the performing energy just overtook me and it was a combination of shallow playing into the keys, mental slips, and then losing discipline at times and playing too fast.


We all deal with nervousness differently. It's ok to feel nervous, I know you don't think you were, but those feelings are what made your performance less than what you wanted it to be. It's the fight or flight sensation that makes the shallow playing, mental slips, and fast playing. Your heart is racing and you're likely taking shallow breaths.

The first thing to do is work on memorization. If you used explicit memory in memorizing you shouldn't have memory slips even when you're nervous. Using only implicit memory (also called muscle memory) causes memory slips.

I wrote up an article on memory here:
http://yourmusiclessons.com/blog/how-to-memorize-music-5-times-faster

Beyond that there are a lot of ways to combat actually being nervous. One of my favorite sites with tons of research on the subject is Noa Kageyama's blog Bulletproof musician:
http://www.bulletproofmusician.com/

One major thing to think about is your breathing when performing. Take deep breaths while you are actually playing. That has been surprisingly helpful for me. Sorry for all the links, but I wrote up a pretty detailed article about performance anxiety as well you might want to check out:
http://yourmusiclessons.com/blog/performance-anxiety/

Basically there are a lot of tools you need to have in your tool box when it comes to performing. You need to practice each one of them and see which ones work best for you, so it takes doing it a lot to figure it out.

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I agree with BruceD and oasismfg. The Scherzo was probably not the best choice for a comeback. This doesn't mean you can't start performing again. Try something less challenging, either at an event or at home, get back into it slowly and you will feel more and more comfortable until you will be able to perform challenging pieces again.



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