"the play's the thing" - Performance in learning and teaching

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Thu Nov 05, 2009 8:39 am

After fracturing a famous quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet ( :D ), I should explain that "play" here is meant in the sense of playing in performance. I think most teachers would say that performing at the piano, at whatever level and in whatever appropriate venue, is important to the learning process, as well as one's appreciation of the music-making process. After all, why learn to play if one doesn't want to be able to play for one's own enjoyment and that of others? Why is performance important to you, as a teacher or student? Should those who have a certain degree of "stage fright" work to overcome that? What pedagogical advantages does performance provide for the teacher and student? Can one succeed at lessons without performing?
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Postby Tranquillo » Thu Nov 05, 2009 9:37 pm

That is a question that I have thought about continuously, the other thread I have started which relates to the areas that certain teachers try to achieve with certain instruments alludes to this. I have noticed that piano in particular, because it is an instrument that does not require accompaniment (its often providing accompaniment), it leads to many people shying away from performing. As a singer, I have noticed that more and more singers are very interested to perform. I think part of this is in the nature of the instrument too, it is due to the fact that singing lessons are a bit like acting lessons, it requires the person to lose their inhibitions, certain exercises don't sound 'normal' or even pleasant!

In saying all of this, I think that performing is part of being a musician. It really depends on what the student wants to be the product of. If the student just wants to be a pianist, a person who is able to play the piano then that is fine. It also depends on the point of playing, some play for therapeutic reasons while others play as a creative outlet. Though, I think taking lessons should provide a person with the opportunity to perform. The degree of stagefright, I believe can be overcome in many ways. I think experience is essential, more than this I think that a person needs to understand that performance should equate to fear it should be enjoyable.

I think performing is really sharing. In saying this, I am not saying that we should raise all pianists to be performers, or many other instrumentalists alike. I am stating that students should all perform during their years of tuition.
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Postby MiddleC » Sat Nov 07, 2009 10:37 am

I agree. We must all face our fears sometime in our lifetime and if we choose or are put in lessons by our parents it is to be sure that we learn something that we can share with others. Performing what you have learned is the way of testing what you have accomplished just like when you take a test at school to see what you have learned. It also enables us to understand that one can make mistakes in a performance, life etc and not die from our embarrassment.

Students need to learn that they have to reach out of their comfort zones in order to achieve all new things in life and performing on any instrument you play should be part of it.
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Tue Nov 10, 2009 7:50 am

One of the reasons that we have encouraged people who have performance anxiety to get involved in chamber music and similar group performance situations is that that get some backup from the other members of the group, but still get the performing experience. If you have trouble performing, ask your teacher about setting up some kind of chamber music or similar group performance setting. Before long, you'll be a pro!

I have heard few reasons other than a dislike or fear of performance for not performing. Are there others? Are they something that a discussion with your teacher can help?
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Postby Tranquillo » Tue Nov 10, 2009 5:13 pm

I know a very skilled and talented pianist who wanted to be a concert pianist for a long time. When he started to perform, and when he started to compete he loathed it. Now, he is finishing off his last year of school and he hopes to get into medicine. He competes with sport and get nervous but not in the way music makes him nervous. Strange ... it's hard to work out.

John, I know what you mean by the chamber music, I would have to say though that Chamber music is complex, I am in a quartet - piano trio and voice, all of the music we play is arranged. It is great fun to get together and also great company back stage in the green room but also very nerve racking because of the need to support and accompany. Too many pianists, and I myself am included believe that accompanying is a tougher job than solo, that is simply because of the fact that if the pianist messes up then the soloist messes up. It works though, to work in a group, I think its great to get into choral work... that is how I started out. Many young people join youth orchestras ... the larger the ensemble the less nerve racking!
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Wed Nov 11, 2009 9:36 am

Becibu wrote:I know a very skilled and talented pianist who wanted to be a concert pianist for a long time. When he started to perform, and when he started to compete he loathed it. Now, he is finishing off his last year of school and he hopes to get into medicine. He competes with sport and get nervous but not in the way music makes him nervous. Strange ... it's hard to work out.

Although all your comments are interesting, let me stay on topic and just comment on the quoted material. I think one of the reasons that athletes don't have such an issue with "nerves" is that they can go out and immediately burn off that nervous energy in the sport. That's harder for pianists to do, even admitting that many piano works can be physically draining to play well. I remember a performance of the Brahms 2nd Piano Concerto given a number of years ago by Andre Watts, in which he finished with sweat running off in streams.

Those of us who have done lots of public speaking face similar issues to those pianists face in performance: how to take excess nervous energy and convert it to energy in the talk. I've found that it's mostly just a matter of being well-prepared, but never giving the same talk the same way twice. The preparation gives one confidence and the constant introduction of new "twists" keeps the talk fresh. I sense that pianists do the the same thing. I've never heard a performer perform the same work the same way, even if the interpretive differences are small.

We have talked about some of these performance issues on our Tips for Performing page.
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Postby celia » Thu Nov 26, 2009 4:32 pm

Hi there, interesting you would bring this up as I think it outlines my mixed feelings about performing... I think to be an accomplished pianist, an important part of this is to be competent performing for an audience. This was very common in my childhood, I took exams, performed in shows at school, accompanied choirs in competitions and assembly etc. Some time after I left school, I realised that performing was making me very nervous, even for friends, and I realised it's because I hardly ever do it now...
I surprised myself when I started talking about my Christmas show idea with such enthusiasm. And the kids obviously picked up on it because most of them are extremely keen to take part. And then I realised that my excitement was because I really felt they have a right to experience that "top of the world" feeling you get, when the crowd is clapping and YOU HAVE DONE IT!!! and the whole build up to it just adds to the euphoria you get afterwards...
On the other hand, although I do not do much public performing myself these days, I also believe that piano brings me much joy (when I have the time) just to play for myself, when I'm learning something new or working really hard at getting it right, just how I want it, I believe this is what's called "in the zone" because it removes me from everything else in my life, I lose track of time, almost like a meditation and I am at peace with the world. (I suppose this is in contrast to some of the angry frustration I would get when I was younger, had much more time to play, and there were deadlines by which I HAD to get it perfect!!!)
I wonder if other pianists feel this meditational state WHEN they are performing, this would be an absolute dream for me becuase when I am actually performing I spend my time mostly just terrified of hitting a wrong note!!
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Re: the play's the thing

Postby pepeditor » Sat Dec 05, 2009 8:51 am

celia wrote:I wonder if other pianists feel this meditational state WHEN they are performing, this would be an absolute dream for me becuase when I am actually performing I spend my time mostly just terrified of hitting a wrong note!!

I have heard other pianists say much the same thing about their state of mind when playing. That's common among advanced pianists. They get skilled enough that they don't have to think much about the notes and can focus on making MUSIC. I wish my own skills as a pianist were advanced enough to get there myself! Guess I'll have to stay with coffee and PEP for that! :D
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