The audience and the stage

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Source: my Flickr

I was at a concert in Philharmonie last night, sitting in the audience. After many concerts where I have been on the stage, it was a strange sensation. Once again I felt out of place sitting among the listeners, even if I could never have been playing with such a brilliant team of musicians; but on a personal level I felt near to them. I saw them exchanging glances before an especially hard passage, syncing tempo and movements, laughing sincerely when they enjoyed the music they were creating, finishing a piece and immediately rearranging the instruments for the next one. I think it’s because I’ve been on the stage and in the backstage for so long that I can pierce through the wall of what the musicians offer the public as a final product, and get a glance on how they build it.

This made me think about a further point. I keep saying that I prefer to see rehearsals than concerts or shows. What I mean is that, having been playing music myself, I give high value on the way a piece is slowly assembled rather than on the single execution at the concert. It’s obviously a necessary goal, but it has almost no value for me if it’s the only part of the way I can access, because one can see a tiny fraction of the heap of small steps that were required to get there.

That’s why I’m playing again with JEB and joined a choir, to get even more backstage and rehearsals 🙂 More posts about that soon!

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After the concert

Last week I played as a guest percussionist in a symphonic wind orchestra, and my concert experience was overall good. On the positive side, I managed to play almost all my notes and I didn’t have issues with tubular bells, which I practiced only at the day of the concert. Here is a first-person view of the percussion section, right before the sound check:

It was a somewhat difficult concert, because I knew some pieces too little, and I had to pay a lot of attention just to follow what others were playing. Only the first piece was clear to me enough that I could really enjoy it. I think that the required level of attention is what makes the concert feel energizing, easy or exhausting. If I have to keep my attention on high alert for the whole ten minutes of the piece (or worse the whole concert), and moreover I make mistakes, my energy levels plummet down. I think it’s a quite common experience among musicians, and that my limited amount of rehearsals played a big role. However, for my next concerts I want to be more aware of how ready I am, aim at reasonable goals and not at perfection, and manage my energy so that I have enough left for the day of the concert (sometimes I put 130% in the last rehearsal and go to the concert with almost no energy). The thing is also that I need to communicate my current energy/skills availability in a positive way, not in a way that make me appear lazy. Most of the times when I say that a piece is too hard or that I can’t do something, I end up being pushed even more. I’m working on it, and will update you about my progress, maybe my experience will help others too 🙂

Quick musical update

It’s a few days I plan to post on my blog and can’t find the quiet half an hour to write a good post. The reason is that I’m preparing a concert with a new orchestra, as guest percussionist. I had two weeks to get acquainted with the pieces we will play, and I spent the whole weekend with the orchestra in a musical retreat in Brandenburg – catching up was definitely not easy, moreover I had to learn to properly play tubular bells and xylophone, and these pieces are the most difficult I had played yet (or at least it feels like it!). As I joined the rehearsals so late, I’m listening to recordings of the pieces while reading my parts, and I’m adding a LOT of annotations:

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What I usually add are colors for the different instruments I have to play (it’s quicker than reading the tiny names on the score!) and annotations about the instruments that play right before me – that saves me from counting the empty bars, and prepares me better to the moment when I have to jump in. These annotations are especially necessary, as I have not been playing with the full orchestra often enough, and it happens very often that I don’t know who is supposed to play, and at which point of the piece we are. I’ll be watching the conductor closely, but I’ll definitely not getting cues all the time; for sure I’ll keep an ear for my fellow percussionists, as we studied our parts together and know them well. Let’s hope for the best 🙂

On playing at concerts, part 3

Yesterday we had our yearly concert:

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It was my first concert after my year away, and it felt great. The two last rehearsals had been for me a bit borderline for concentration – there were both things that ran very well, and practicing more was boring, but also things that didn’t work well, and there was clearly no time to fix them. So overall I was in a right balance of relaxed and focused when I walked on the stage for the concert. It was also interesting to see how the calm of the musicians calmed down Mariano, the conductor.

I enjoyed playing with my fellow musicians so much! We are such a closely-knit group that we support each other, know who has difficult parts, and cheer the soloists as much as the audience, if not more. I didn’t feel like performing yesterday, the fun of being together was stronger than the stage fright. I took this picture at the soundcheck (sorry for the bad quality) – I love how some are concentrated, some relaxed while waiting for their cue, and in the middle Thorsten smiles. This picture sums us up so well 🙂

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On playing at concerts

I am wondering what is happening to me in this last year, as I have helplessy seen myself becoming less and less involved in performing publicly with my orchestra.

I have many years experience with concerts and I lost quite early the panic right before walking on stage, and the stress on stage; until recently I enjoyed playing for the audience, let people feel the emotions of a given piece of music together with us and possibly the soul of the author.

A couple years ago something changed – something broke, I could say. I felt that my most enjoyable moments happened at the rehearsals, usually around the last one, then the concert felt like an unnecessary burden. Getting dressed, preparing everything to look good and be able to move silently on stage looked like acting, bad acting.

I talked about that with my drums teacher and he described how he feels instead. I could clearly understand how he feels the responsibility of playing well at concerts, how concerts are the necessary final step of a long preparation. But something in me is disillusioned. Even at concerts that I attend as part of the audience, the magic is gone. Still, I feel the musicians closer than before; I feel I am on stage too and we are not part of the show, because we are part of the backstage. I fell in the backstage and can’t (won’t?) get back to the limelight.

I don’t know if I will be happy to play at concerts again; I don’t really care now. What is important at the moment is that I understand what is the most important thing for me instead, get it to perfection and move on. It is maybe the attention to movement (see all posts about that!), the timeless practice of a small quirk, finding the sparkles of joy in other musicians’ concerts. For example, I totally love how relaxed and focused are the players of Combattimento Consort of Amsterdam, while playing Bach’s Christmas Oratorium:

Starting from the conductor, I see so much enthusiasm, closeness, confidence, flow, fun. There is even a moment when the conductor lets the string quartet play on their own, and simply listens to them. This is definitely how I would like to feel on stage.