Thoughts on performing Lark Ascending
Some of you might remember that about six months back I posted about preparing to perform The Lark Ascending with the community orchestra that I'm the concertmaster of. (LINK
. Contains a video of the recital run-through with piano, for comparison purposes.)
The performance with orchestra is eventually being televised on county TV, and I was going to wait to post until the video was available (sadly my own personal camera truncated my own video copy), but it's been a while and it still hasn't been broadcast, so here's an audio file: MP3 LINK
It's an enormous privilege to perform with orchestra, always. I was relieved that the performance passed without major mishap, but I also felt that the dress-rehearsal run-through immediately before the performance was much better. I didn't know how to describe what happened to my teacher -- how I went from feeling relaxed and confident (which comes with a certain freedom and smoothness of execution), to being terrified and barely in control, and what happened to the sound as a result. (He watched the video, acknowledged that he understood what I meant, and commented that the performance felt somehow "fragile".)
One of my big goals is to become a better performer -- to have a smaller delta between what I can do in practice or rehearsal, and what comes out when I'm nervous. For instance, I seem to hear everything sharp when I'm nervous (it's not a finger placement thing, so much as my ear somehow goes awry). And my hands shake, which you can really hear in the vibrato, although I've gotten better about maintaining control of the bow.
Still, I'm under the impression that this sounds better than the performance with piano, though I might be wrong. :-)
Back in December 2013, I performed the Glazunov concerto with this same orchestra (VIDEO), a little less than a year after returning to playing. I hope I've improved since then, but one of the things that strikes me in listening to this more recent performance is how much of a difference switching equipment (different violin and bow) has made. My current instrument offers completely effortless projection; with the previous one, it was an enormous effort to ensure I could be heard over the orchestra.
Your commentary, including criticism, is welcome.
Lydia, I've been looking forward to hearing this performance! but the link doesn't seem to be working for me. Can you edit? Thanks!
Oops, sorry! Fixed:
Not sure how valuable my input is, but the main point I make to students is to believe that when you go on stage, you have something to offer; that every note you play is gold to the people listening, even if the notes are "wrong" to you.
Without having watched the video - have you read either The Inner Game of Music, or The Inner Game of Tennis? My teacher recommends both as important in understanding how to handle practice and performance to overcome this kind of issue.
I may have phrased that poorly -- I'm playing sharp because I'm hearing the notes flat, yes. :-)
Homeopathic gelsemium is indicated for performance jitters. Rescue Remedy (by Bach Flower Essences) is also good for acute anxiety (you can get it in liquid or in pastilles to suck on, I prefer the pastilles). There are qi gong breathing exercises that you can do beforehand (a friend who is a dancer does these before going on stage and swears by them). I'm actually having a chat with a music performer (not my teacher) this weekend, and can report back on what they say. (I get this response when THINKING about playing my violin for anyone but my teacher -even then I'll sometimes get worked up- but public speaking, teaching, etc. is not an issue for me as well.) I've heard that tapping/Emotional Freedom Technique, is very good for this type of response as your body, as well as your mind, are engaged in soothing the nerves.
Nice playing, I enjoyed it! You set the bar very high for the rest of us.
You sounded great!
Agree with David - you have indeed set the bar very high for us, especially us returners! Great work.
Congratulations Lydia! There's a clear difference for me. Your sense of timing and phrasing now has nuance and control. Will have a closer listen when I have more time. I can comment in as much detail as you like :) but for now I think the next project for your left hand should include control over vertical pressure. But you gotta be happy with all you've achieved!
I did not get the chance yet to listen to more than the two first minutes, so I will comment on your performance later.
Thank you , Lydia! I hear what is a musically meaningful performance. If you are slightly sharp in places, I usually hear enough vibrato to include the core pitch and bring that to my ears. Very nice indeed.
Yeah, honestly, Xanax is probably your best bet if you really wanna do it like the pros :)
Lydia wrote, "I do quite a lot of public speaking in front of large crowds, also ..."
Thanks for the comments thus far, folks!
Hi Lydia, I'll get more specific after the 13th. I bring up LH pressure because of what you've said about your left hand in the past and the "shaking" in your vibrato. Granted I can't really tell what's going on through audio and video, but I don't think we can ever do too much to practice release.
First of all, kudos to you for performing this piece of music and having it recorded!
Hi Lydia, thanks for sharing. You are doubly brave: first for playing so publicly to begin with, and again for recording and listening with a discerning ear and inviting others to do so as well. I've only soloed with an orchestra once (unless you count little concertmaster solos) and I got a terrible case of the shakes, missed a shift or two, etc. It was the Beethoven F-major Romance; there was nowhere to hide and no real time to recover. I listened to the recording once, mortified, and then buried it in the bottom of my memory, hoping others would do so too.
I have a similar experience as you with beta blockers. Years ago I was prescribed them for other reasons and tried them once for a performance. It was a very odd sensation - like observing myself from the outside. I have avoided them since.
I notice that "I've tried beta blockers" is usually written in the plural. My guess is that someone who plans to rely on them extensively for their professional work would need to do some significant self-experimentation to find the best compound and dosage.
Jeewon, that's very interesting. I don't think I use very much force, but I do tend to drop and snap off my fingers with speed, which can sometimes have the same physical effect, although it would be impact-release rather than impact-hold. A previous teacher of mine made me learn to put down fingers with maximum lightness and speed, and to hold them down with minimum pressure, so there's generally an immediate release from the initial impulse. My current teacher actually thinks that there are places where I might benefit from pressing and holding the strings more solidly. (We are currently working on Tchaikovsky's Meditation -- initially with no vibrato and all forte, and now no vibrato but all expressiveness with the right hand, and then hopefully the last step will be a controlled and relaxed vibrato that won't go off the rails when I'm nervous.)
Rocky, the original recital-with-piano was shot with a Zoom Q4n, I think at the highest available quality, though YouTube does not post it at that quality. The audio file was professional recorded and engineered, and I ripped the CD to Apple Lossless and then converted it to 320 kbps MP3.
Lydia, I'm very much speculating aloud right now. I don't think you have a chronic tension problem or anything like that by any means. But often we're unaware of some small parasitic motion, or lack of motion, which can become an issue when amplified by nervousness.
I place my fingers on the pads, except in some types of double-stops (like thirds) where being more vertical is necessary in order to reach the notes given my short fingers.
Don't I know it!
Jeewon, I'm very impressed by your physiological analyses of violin playing. Despite being so crucial, it seems rare for people to know these things!
I was expecting a train wreck from your description, but I thought that the overall performance was solid, and that the narrative and atmosphere was conveyed very well, with a couple small spots that you probably know about.
Thanks for your vote of confidence Erik. It seems most people talk about flexors when thinking of finger placement, but the way I was taught, with the feeling of one hand clapping, it's clearly mostly in the lumbricals. Often we have to inhibit the flexors from overpowering left hand action, so that they merely take aim by curling fingers into their appropriate shapes.
I do agree Jeewon, although I find that the dominance of flexors vs lumbricals somewhat depends on the anthropometry of the individual! (as a general example, someone with very short fingers, particularly the 4th finger, is going to have to use the lumbricals more, whereas a very long-fingered person may have to "shorten" their fingers artificially by lowering the contact points of the left hand on the neck and initiating more flexor action (essentially, playing with a flatter 1st finger). Of course, there are also those individuals who need to have a strong disparity between lumbrical and flexor action depending in which finger they're using, as in the case of using lots of flexor for the 1st finger and lots of lumbrical for the 4th. Obviously there would never be a case where we used lots of lumbrical for the 1st finger, though.
Hi Erik, I think I've seen some violinists use their second joint (proximal interphalangeal joint) to depress the string, but I am suggesting that it's better for everyone to use their base knuckles for that purpose. It's no coincidence the PIP gives us the power grip.
I'm finding this to be very interesting reading but I have to find time to think it all through before I reply properly. :-)
I'm starting to formulate an idea of what might be happening to your left hand under pressure, but I have to find the time to think it all through before I reply properly. :-)
My right hand shakes under pressure as well, by the way, but I can help stop this by taking longer bows.