Written by Amy Beth Horman
Published: August 24, 2014 at 2:49 AM [UTC]
The Very Sung Hero: Day Two Practice
The following blog details my second day of practice in preparation for performances as the emergency soloist on the Brahms Concerto with the Bay Atlantic Symphony last weekend.
There is nothing really that compares to waking up on a Thursday knowing you will be playing the Brahms Concerto with a pro orchestra on Friday. It almost doesn’t matter what your time to prepare was. Until you play your cadenza and realize it does.
On my second day of practice, I took a minute to ponder what I have felt like on Thursdays like this before – Thursdays before Brahms Concerto performance weekends. And for what it is worth, I was able to feel how lucky I am even under the pressure. People placed faith in me that I can do this and so I am and I am giving it my all. I was trained to do it and can help out in a difficult situation where someone is definitely needed. I didn’t really have time to doubt it so I just got to work.
On day two, my goal was to do a full run through in the evening by memory. This was important because it helped me see the concerto as a whole work and not as a bunch of technical sections. It also allowed me to see where my focus waned and where fatigue set in. Playing it from memory revealed which parts were not totally internalized so I could focus on them the following morning before I leaving. I also only practiced with full score on day two so that I could see the big picture and know which sections of the orchestra would be playing at all times. This then helped remind me about how to achieve optimal dynamics by assessing the bulk of the orchestral accompaniment.
My first active practice session on this day was a lot like what I did on day one. I focused on the hardest spots to perform with orchestra using my past performances as a guide. I also checked tempi, pulling about half of them up to speed. The other half were not ready and I didn’t want my body to learn to panic on them. So I stay slightly under tempo, vowing to hit them later again before the run through. I was pickier on day two about pitch, bow distribution, projection, and long lines. I was also becoming more aware of posture and breathing.
My second practice session was on the cadenza/last page of the first movement plus the last two pages of the 3rd movement. It was really important to me that these be clean because of the excitement in the music as each of these movements comes to a close. I also have a memory of it being hard to keep these very clean in performance, likely caused by fatigue or a lack of focus. If I bolstered them in practice, they would feel a slight boost in context later in the run through. I ended up practicing with a metronome on both the end of the first and third movement to make sure I am steady.
My third practice session was on the second movement, the lyrical sections of the 1st movement and the dreaded letter C in the third movement. I focused on phrasing, pitch, tone, and vibrato.
When it came time for my one and only run through, I went in with eyes and ears wide open. I knew it would contain mistakes but I also knew I had a long drive the following day to think about things. After I was done, I turned to my husband and said, “I think it might end up ok” and he smiled at me.
The following day would be harder. I had last minute lessons to teach because my students were all in auditions the following week, lunch with my kids and then a long drive alone to have my first rehearsal on the concerto. The next two days would test my nerves, challenge my techniqiue, and ultimately teach me a lot about this beautiful concerto I have been performing for years. I was about to get to know it in a situation I might never find myself in again and I was ready to make the most of it.
Next up: Rehearsals and performances in NJ with the Bay Atlantic Symphony