Frozen on the spot

December 9, 2007 at 05:09 PM · Has something like this ever happened to you...?

One of my short stories was just published in an anthology, and I was only too excited to attend the book launch. I had my violin with me because I was going to perform at a different event later in the day.

When my name was called at the launch, I was asked to play something on the spot... And I just barely managed a few tense, nervous notes. It's not my first time to perform in public so I thought I should've been able to play something reasonable... But nothing came out!

Fortunately, it was a kind crowd and the host was very good so I gave a sheepish, apologetic smile and we all just laughed.

How have you managed to survive croaking in public? :-)

Replies (14)

December 10, 2007 at 09:52 PM · In my line of work, "drawing a blank" and "freezing over on the spot" happens to me more often than I want, but it's one of the 'hazards' that come with the vocation especially with all the speaking in the public forum that is required of me. For most people, public speaking is one of the things that people fear doing. Performing in public is not too far behind in the fear factor. I would rather play my violin in public.

What I do is try to remain calm and recollect my thoughts and maintain my sense of humor. "Rolling with the punches" in a sense.

And if I want to prevent a future occurrence of blanking out, I make sure to prepare well with whatever I have to say or play. And as for playing the violin on the spot, I am always prepared for that too, as I always maintain about five or six shorter encore type pieces always played by memory. I hope this helps.

December 11, 2007 at 01:40 AM · You could always do what I do--start singing insanely (a little foam coming out the mouth) and dancing around like a monkey...

December 11, 2007 at 02:33 AM · I just start with that. Things go smoother that way. No abrupt transition.

December 11, 2007 at 02:42 AM · When i get into that type of situation and I'm in a good mood---then I'll try my best----and if I fail --- I don't care....

If I'm not in the mood to play,then I'll politely refuse...

If they continue to request then I'll play.

There are some people that I'd not play in front of at any time...

Many times,I find it discouraging that there are quite a number of people who have decided that the sound of the violin is inappropriate to any situation and it is these folk who should really be benignly neglected for an eternity.

December 11, 2007 at 04:00 AM · Several weeks ago I had an interesting experience with Glenn Dicterow, with whom I briefly studied many years ago. He gave a public master class at MSM. I arrived a little late, but caught almost everything. All the students were excellent - and Glenn was amazing. Long retired from participating in such grueling events, I sat in the audience, minding my own business and thoroughly enjoying myself.

At the end I came up to greet my old erstwhile professor who hadn't heard me in more than 20 years. He was so nice and down-to-earth. He sincerely thanked me for keeping in touch with him throughout the years (with concert flyers, my CD, which I don't think he'd gotten to, etc.). Then he suddenly said "how would you like to try a nice fiddle?" He didn't mean the del Gesu he was almost through putting away, but the work of a contemporary maker who was there and probably earlier tried to interest Glenn in his work. (As far as the maker, himself, that aspect ended going awry and I detailed it on under "Who is Robert Meadow?") I sensed that I wasn't really being offered a choice. Sure. Without any physical warm-up or mental preparation, try an unfamiliar violin without even the kind of chinrest you're used to or the minimal suede covering that you use, and play in front of the CM of the NYP, his top students, and invited guests! No problem! Well at first I was so nervous that I could barely talk straight! Fortunately, I played better than I talked, and acquitted myself pretty well, and felt good about the experience. But that was quite a surprise!

I would say, in a situation like that, try to just go for it. There is a moment that can be paralyzing, or liberating. Try to quickly push through that moment to get from the former to the latter - if that makes any sense. It's kind of like those old cartoons, where a character runs off a cliff, and is able to continue running in the air as long as he doesn't look down, whereupon he'll remind himself that it's impossible to run in the air!

December 11, 2007 at 06:43 AM · Joe,

I agree with your observation that "there are quite a number of people who have decided that the sound of the violin is inappropriate to any situation." I think that's my main cause of fear. This particular crowd was nice and accommodating, but I still couldn't shake off the feeling that I should have had something lively to play in mind. I guess it's a matter of repertoire...


Great advice! I'll keep that in mind the next time I'm in a similar situation.

Jasimine and Jim,

When all else fails, I'll use your technique :-P

*drops to the floor, flopping around*

December 11, 2007 at 06:58 AM · Tim. Raphael has advised you well. Let me add:

Smile, say, let me warm up a little, and grab a couple scales--violin is not like other instruments, that can be played cold, especially if one is use to practicing in a very controlled environment. That may be just enough to get you to that point Raphael was talking about. Grab a few measures of Sevick as well.

Desensitizing one's self to these situations is important. Just imagine street buskers, who really just go out there and ham it out--one is writing to you now... And, it always takes a few seconds to get in the zone.

I've only been playing for about 30 or so months, and with a bumb hand, was out there playing for a hurricane Katrina fund raiser my family did at six months--maybe less--its been a while.

A lot your success will be based on how well you can master this.

December 11, 2007 at 07:14 AM · Al,

Thanks for your additional comments :-)

I think you hit it right on the nail: you're right, the violin is unique in that it takes some time to warm up.

At the time, I didn't think about the situation that way. I felt that being an experienced player meant that I should have been able to play something fairly decent.

December 11, 2007 at 09:48 AM · This hasn't happened to me very often, and not recently. But it happened twice in school, and the first time, I played the first thing that came into my head, which was the opening to the 2nd violin part of the Bach double. I went to the part where the 1st violin comes in and said something like "well here's where the other violin is supposed to come in," and stopped. I felt stupid because I didn't know where to stop, and it just kind of petered out.

The second time I was in Germany, where I had gone for a year off between high school and college, and I was studying violin at a music school there, and had my violin with me in another class (not at the music school) and people asked me what I was doing in Germany, and when I told them, they wanted me to play something. At that point I think I actually played the Bach Preludio from Partita in E--the whole thing, and not particularly well. I was nervous and I think I had a couple of memory lapses. I don't think they had wanted to hear something quite that long, either, but I just couldn't stop until I got to the end. They applauded politely afterwards. I remember thinking then that it would be nice to have something short and playable--something with a defined beginning, middle, and end that lasts maybe a minute--memorized for such occasions, but I really haven't followed my own advice.

December 11, 2007 at 10:21 AM · The little Lully's Gavotte rocked out is a good candidate for what Karen was saying Tim.. Played up-tempo, and strong, it holds it's own in the interesting department.

December 11, 2007 at 07:59 PM · I used to get so annoyed when people asked me to play on the spot, especially if I hadn't warmed up first. But I've gotten used to the idea (probably because I've had to play on demand so many times) and I usually just play whatever I'm in the mood for, because it usually sounds the best. It's not a bad idea to practice up one or two short pieces and have then memorized and ready to play.

If you don't have a short piece ready, though, people generally like anything Bach, Mozart, or the first page or so of a concerto. Also if you can share a bit about whatever it is you're playing, some funny story or anecdote about the composer, people enjoy your performance more ;)

December 11, 2007 at 08:37 PM · Maybe have a very short easy piece always ready for an unoppetune moment like this. I have Cesar Cui's Oriental always ready.

December 12, 2007 at 04:46 AM · Always wear dark pants.

December 12, 2007 at 05:40 PM · Has anyone ever had people request "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" when they ask you to play your violin?

It happened to me way too many times.

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