Choose your audience and beyond...
Why is the quality of one's playing so tightly associated with who the audience is? Yesterday, I played Mendelssohn violin concerto to a 3yo kid, who wondered into my practice room. I played for him while watching his big grin and nonstop bouncy little figure. This was my best playing of the piece ever! I usually play better when I could see the birds outside the window. Do you have similar tendency? How do you go beyond this limitation?
When I am playing for a non-musician, what I am thinking and my physical symptoms (hands clammy, etc.) are very different. What you can do is put yourself in the state of mind you would be in during a tough performance while you practice. One teacher I met at a summer program years ago told us to run up and down the stairs a few times and then play our pieces, so we could prepare for stressful playing situations. Things like that are hard, but they do work. I hope this is the kind of advice you were looking for.
I think that just like we learn how to play harder repertoire more effectively with practice, we also learn how to play in more challenging performance situations more effectively with practice. Playing for a 3 year old probably feels a lot like our daily practice, and we can move past our self-consciousness, while playing in front of adults or other musicians is a situation that we probably have to learn over time how to get past our self-consciousness, and we have to continuously practice and put ourselves in situations that are the right level of uncomfortable. My best performances have been in really low-stakes environments.
Helen, what a great idea! Although, for me, rigorous physical exercise actually calms me down. I shall try your trick before a tough performance.
"Why is the quality of one's playing so tightly associated with who the audience is? ... How do you go beyond this limitation?"
Mary, what you said is extremely insightful! Meeting receptive audience is why I play better when I play for kids and Song birds. This also explains well the opposite situation I experienced yesterday whe I had an opportunity to play for an unmusical old relative. It was the most uninspiring experience,as she kept interrupting my playing by asking questions unrelated to music. It was hopeless. I ended up just turned into parctic mode.
I can relate to this subject with a good degree of immediacy since I just finished a pair of recital performances (of the same program) in two rather different venues.
I play viola in a local amateur orchestra, and once a year (in addition to our regular concert schedule) we play a concert at a community centre on the poor side of town. The audience there is quite different from that in our normal venue: it's a much more informal setting, with people drifting in and out during the performance. But a lot of these people find something in the music to connect to, and aren't afraid to let it show. When we play a familiar piece someone might grin and give his seatmate a dig in the ribs. Someone else might get up and start to dance, while one woman just sat there with tears running down her cheeks. You really feel motivated to play to such people. We played the Peer Gynt suites, and when we got to
As a cellist I've been playing piano trios with the same violinist friend virtually every Thursday morning for 17 years. After our pianist became incapable of continuing, at age 95 (and died a year later) we turned to another pianist with whom we have continued to play on the same schedule for the past 6 years. During these 17 years we have endured about 2 recitals a year for family members and friends. But about 2 months ago our "new" pianist started inviting her neighbors in for our weekly sessions (hard to call them rehearsals or practice) followed by tea and cookies or cake.