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Mendy Smith

First Public Performance of Bruch

January 10, 2008 at 6:48 AM

I walk into the concert hall and look around. Wood floors, nice for acoustics, not-too high ceilings, the piano and the stand. I place my music on the stand. There are only two people in the audience, but they are very well known musicians in the Portland Area and Oregon Symphony members: principal violist Joel Belgique, and violinist Ines Voglar. Can I play up to their expectations? Will I embarrass myself? I've worked hard at this for a long time and have most of it memorized now. I want this to be a beautiful romantic moment for my two audience members.

I smile at them, they smile back.

I take a moment for myself, ready my viola, finding that perfect spot in time to begin, and nod to the pianist. As the introduction begins, I ready my bow and pull the sweetest A from the strings and begin to play. My viola sounds very nice in this room, the acoustics are quite good, and I hear a nice bounce-back of my music, just like in my own music room at home. The music flows easily from my instrument. I start noticing that my feet are cold. As I come to the end of the section, I turn the page and begin the second section. Nice and easy. Then comes the a difficult part. I notice that I'm starting to tense up a bit and make my body and mind relax. I've done this a dozen times. A few notes came out out of tune - I force myself to not cringe up my face, and continue back in tune again.

I run up and down the fingerboard on the 32nd note runs. Ooops! Missed a note! Now onto those c-flats, just a tad flat. Then the final run of double-stops. Oooops! Missed the open A on the last chord, OK, just play the F like you meant that to happen. Onto the ending. Sweet as can be. Ooops again! I added a bow change when it should had been slurred. I add one more bow change in a good spot so I can end in the right bowing direction. Still sounding good. The final measures come out sweet and heart breaking. I let the final A fade and hold my pose until there is no hint of sound letting the moment last.

I look up at the audience and they are grinning ear to ear.

I let out a big "YIPPEEEE! My bow didn't shake one bit!!!! AND I wasn't nervous at ALLLL". Joel smiles at me and says "See? You CAN do this!!! Now lets review a few things..." We leave his living room and head back upstairs to the studio. (There was no actual piano playing in this recital, just in our mind's ears.)

That was at the end of my lesson tonight, so I'll back up to the beginning... It has been absolutely crazy at work for the last few days. When I get into the studio, I say "I NEED SCALES!!!!" with a wild eyed look. My first scale attempt was horrid. My teacher then starting playing a drone (middle C) while I do scales again. He has me hang out for awhile on the notes that make perfect 5ths, 4ths, 3rds, octaves, etc... By the end of this exercise, my mind was TOTALLY off of work and into "music mode".

I played the piece through for him once as if it were a performance. I made the mistake of not taking that 100% seriously and looked at him a few times, cringed my face up when a note was not in-tune, hummed and talked to myself a time or two while playing, and didn't stay in the moment after the final note was played. We worked through a few finer musical & technical issues, then tackled the "stage presence". HOW to mentally and physically prepare BEFORE the first note is played, how to let my pianist know when to begin, how to turn the pages gracefully, and how to end the piece - physically - keeping a serious face and staying in playing position for the right about of time AFTER the last note is played WITHOUT looking at the "audience" or anywhere else but my at my sounding point.

He excused himself for a moment (apparently to stage this unexpected concert with his wife), then came back a minute later. We work few a more details. Then he pulls a fast one on me. "Play this through one more time, then let's go downstairs and perform for me and Ines!" OMG!!! Panic sets in for a moment. He has me play it in performance mode one more time, then another round of critique. "Are you ready? You want to do this?" he asks. "Well, this won't kill me, so OK. Let's do it!"

It was the most interesting "lesson" I have ever had! It was not so much of a lesson as it was a coaching session, and so incredibly helpful. This little covert performance helped me convince myself that I COULD do this and not get massive stage fright and fall apart or shake like a leaf, like what happened my last solo performance experience at my grandfather's funeral. The work on stage presence answered alot of questions that I never could formulate a question for.

Now, instead of being anxious for this competition, I'm now eagerly looking forward to it!

From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on January 11, 2008 at 2:22 AM
Congratulations, and good luck with the next performance!
From Ruth Kuefler
Posted on January 11, 2008 at 3:35 AM
Aw, that's so great Mendy! I've really enjoyed reading about all your preparations for this competition. I wish you the best of luck! I'm sure you'll do great. :)

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