The Well-Aging Fiddler: Playing in Public - make the first time the third or fourth time.

May 11, 2018, 9:27 AM · Whenever possible, make sure the first time you play something in public isn’t the first time you’ve played that piece in public. By that I mean there is an official first time, but there is also a real first time.

Whenever possible, theater companies try to get in at least two dress rehearsals with some sort of audience present. Why? To get a sense of where it all stands with people in the seats. Where are the laughs? What moments work? What needs last minute adjustments? While each audience will be different, and one audience may respond differently than another audience, at least the actors will get a general sense of what to expect.

I’d say the same is true for a violin recital. How ready are you? Where will your focus be? It’s one thing to be in a practice room, or your bedroom, living room, garage, or wherever you rehearse, but it’s altogether another thing to play in front of an audience.

This is a problem I’m about to face this week. As you may know, I’m finishing my first year of violin lessons. Over the past year I’ve been given studies, scales, arpeggios, and 20+ tunes to learn. While I’ve been working on them all year, I hit a point about three months ago where I wondered where all of this was going to go, and most importantly, was anyone going to hear these songs other than my teacher at lessons, and my wife at home?

So, to make a long story short, I found a pub here in Portland, Oregon – the Muddy Rudder – and on May 20, the Sunday after Mother’s Day, I’ll do a 2 p.m. recital of roughly 18 – 20 of these songs. I’ve been practicing, and now it’s crunch time. I’ve got one week to go.

I have the songs memorized and except for a couple of bit and pieces, I’m ready to go. Now I need to play them in public before May 20. I can’t exactly walk into the pub, take out the violin and go to it. (Well, I COULD do that, but I don’t know how the patrons would feel.) I don’t have a stage. I don’t want to do it in my living room.

So I’m going to put my violin in its case, head over to a public park, find a nice place in the shade, and just do it.

public park

Then I’ll do it the next day in another park, and one more time in another public park. At this point the whole performance takes about 20 - 25 minutes. I don’t care who hears it. People walking their dogs, joggers, kids in strollers, kids out of strollers, squirrels, birds, anyone. I’ve just got to get it out there.

Will I screw up? Probably. Will I be embarrassed? Perhaps. But what is most important is I’ll learn from the whole thing, and my goal will be to center my focus on what I’m playing within the parameters of obvious distractions. I’d rather learn this in a public park and work on centering the focus at that time, as opposed to doing it at the Muddy Rudder Public House. I want to go into that performance feeling confident and reduce the elements of surprise. So, stay tuned…….we’ll see how this goes.

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May 12, 2018 at 08:19 PM · This is great! As someone who performs solo literally once a year (at studio recital), I love to hear how other people work past the nerves and jitters. Please let us know how it goes - the public-park playing and the pub playing too.

May 12, 2018 at 10:31 PM · With so much forethought and practice I’m sure it’ll go fine and you will hopefully enjoy the experience.

Learning as a child I hated public playing with a vengeance. I’m not sure where this feeling came from. When I started playing violin again after 20+years gap, I’ve made the effort to try and overcome this. I’ve been playing in orchestras (relatively safe), quartets (less safe), exams (a bit risky) and now I’m up for an eisteddfod next month (downright dangerous). I have played the pieces in public before, whether I’ll be prepared enough (or even go through with it) remains to be seen.

Keep us posted

May 14, 2018 at 05:00 PM · If it's any consolation pubs are usually low key kinds of places, at least the ones in my area are. The acoustics can be iffy as well. At times it can be loud with multiple conversations going on at the same time.

I think imagining yourself, projecting yourself as successful tends to make you successful. There is something to be said for mind over matter.

I'm a bit over two years into my lessons and I play probably more frequently than most who are at my level. I can play well of you don't listen too closely.

I play in two venues.A church and a bar. In both of those the audience is probably too accommodating. I am tougher on myself than they are.I know this.I don't let affirmation go to my head.I know I have a lot of work to do.

I don't know how many others can share this feeling. I notice that I have a tendency to pass over difficulty to my own detriment.If we aren't careful we will let things go that we shouldn't be letting go.

For instance, I can get past a certain fingering by faking or "fudging" it. Maybe no one really noticed I didn't do it right. I know I didn't do it right and I want to correct it even if I can get away with it.

It can be easy to pass myself when I need to back up some and go over the basics yet again. For me, it isn't about playing in public. It's about me getting better.Public or no public playing. Public affirmation can be a boost to our self confidence. OTOH don't let one bad public performance ruin it for you.

May 14, 2018 at 08:48 PM · Thanks for the advice, Timothy. I used to sing with my guitar in restaurants, brew pubs, wine bars, and dive bars. I've seen a lot. I was in a dive bar one night and a woman came up to the stage. "Do you play anything by Elvis?" I said I didn't. She shook her finger at me. "What kind of singer are you? You don't do Elvis?" She walked away. A young girl came up a little while later. "Do you play any newer stuff like Katie Perry?" I said I didn't. She looked rather resigned. "I didn't think so." Then she walked back to her friends. Later, a third woman came up and asked, "Do you play anything by Townes Van Zandt?" I said I did. She beamed, "My God you're good!" I rolled my eyes. Performing in these places keeps it real because, in the long run, "good" and "bad" are rather subjective comments at best. Also, I selected The Muddy Rudder for my recital because it is a music venue, with blues, country, folk, bluegrass, and Irish music. I'm also encouraging my audience to eat and drink before, during, and after the recital. There ain't gonna be anything formal about this show. It'll be one shot through and take no prisoners for 20 minutes. (It's scheduled for 2 p.m. because I have to be done by 3 for Happy Hour.)

May 15, 2018 at 11:44 PM · Whilst we where in china and visited some of there public parks we found lots of players performing and singers, some of the instruments were unusual, we were invited to sit and listen a great experience best regards john A

May 17, 2018 at 01:44 PM · Love this idea! I’m working on a video audition, but find myself nervous even though it’s not a live performance. Maybe your idea would help!

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