February 10, 2012 at 1:22 PMI was recently asked how to perform by the mother of one of my students who she described as "driven and frustrated." How often I hear these two words paired when it comes to violin, and especially, violin performance. She wondered if I had any suggestions.
For me, the perfect performance is one where you set realistic expectations and achieve those small, but valuable leaps of both technique and your mental capacity to handle the risk of "putting yourself out there." Will you get all the notes correctly? Will you remember to have a straight bow hold? Will you treat yourself well after a performance? These things are imperative not only to feeling good, but they will have a lasting affect on the psyche and spirit, because you prepared, performed, and followed-up with a good attitude. You gave it the best shot you had.
As a super-determined person myself, I often expect mountainous goals for myself. Sometimes I achieve these goals and more, but 9 times out of 10 I feel exhausted, abused from my own pushing, and dissatisfied because the process has been compensated for my greed of obtaining the goal. "How did I get to this point?" I ask my tired self after one more "goal" is deemed successful enough to move to another. How many "goals" must I pursue before my ego is permanently elevated? The secret lies in being happy with the little things, tempering your lofty goals with a bit of old-fashioned "Realistic Expectations," and whatever your goal is, multiplying it by three or four, and to treat yourself well along the way, embracing error as a means to knowledge and growth.
Is this a fantasy for violinists? Can we be happy with mediocrity?
Here's some advice I gave a student the other day who was looking for some performance-anxiety relief. I am surprised how many new students enter with this pressure. Where does it come from?
What _____ may be experiencing is true of most musicians as we strive so hard and sometimes expect too much too soon, and a self-critical voice can enter. It does not end once the piece is perfectly performed-- unless _____ starts now by giving herself some learned self-assurance paired with a reasonable expectation, and can embrace "failure" as a positive means to self-improvement. If ______ can lower her standards a bit, and focus on the practice of performing and getting through the piece as a means of her success, then she will be satisfied with the recital. Also, if she reminds herself, no matter what happens, to be forgiving and treat herself well after the performance, she will fear less, because what she fears may be how dis-satisfied she feels afterward. This is the more important than the notes, I would say, so maybe she can focus on that alone for this performance: no matter what happens, to be content afterward, and if it does't go well, then instead of self-critical thoughts, say "I would like to do this part this way next time, so I'm glad I had this experience in order to find this out." It's all a learning process. All musicians struggle with performances sometimes, and it creeps in whether you prepare overnight or for ten years. It's part of being discerning and determined, which is a good thing."
My conclusion? Play with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind-- and don't forget to be thankful for every mistake that comes along.
I like that. Very similar to "don't be afraid of failure, ask yourself what did you learn from it".
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