Have you ever practiced the heck of our a piece at home and had it sound great, only to completely screw it up at the concert? Or have you simply played on one piano, then went to play on a different one and could barely play the piece you’ve been working on? Why the heck is this? I’ll tell you.
I recently arrived back to Sacramento from being on tour with my dad and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. While away I had started to practice Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a theme of Paginini. Ten minutes ago I sat down at my keyboard to play it and guess what? I could barely remember the notes! What gives?! And it’s not like I hadn’t spent enough time on it. I was playing it fluidly back home. Everyone fails to realize what a difference your environment has on your ability to play and perform at a high quality level. As you’re learning a piece, everything plays a part in how your body, mind, and fingers remember what you’ve practiced. There are tons of variables that will effect the way you play. For example, the piano bench being too low or too high, the action of the piano feeling differently, the look of the piano, the lighting and shadows, the sound of the piano, the spacing of the keys, the material of the key, I could literally go on all day. So how do we fix this and prepare?
There are obviously variables that we cannot account for in a performance. Usually before performances and concerts, they have sound checks in order for you to familiarize yourself with the piano and your surroundings. This will usually help to some degree but not much since you’ve already spent most of your time at home practicing in one space. In order to perform at your highest level possible you need to practice in all the situations I previously spoke of. You need to create these variables for yourself so when it comes concert time, you are as ready as you’re going to be. Play on different pianos. Go to a piano store and practice on all the pianos they have there! I’m serious! If you want to attain a certain level this is the preparation you have to go through. Practice on a stool, practice in the dark, practice in the hot and cold. Create every possible situation you can think of that may arise. When you do this your body and mind will know your piece so well that it will be a piece of cake should you encounter any variables.
You must accept circumstances for what they are. If you arrive at a gig and they have the crappiest piano you have ever seen you must be ready and still perform as if it was a concert grand. I never assume certain aspects of a concert or a gig. The sound, my comfort level, the lighting. I always am prepared to accept whatever the situation will be and play to my highest level in that situation. Recently on the tour I heard a great story. Some one had thrown a surprise party for Bill Evans. There were tons of famous pianists at this part who all played through out the night. All the pianists had been complaining to Bill about the piano and how tiny it sounded. Finally, it was Bill’s turn to play. He sat down and to everyone’s amazement the most beautiful rich and full sound began to glide across the room. People were stunned that he was able to get such a wonderful sound out of the piano they all thought was crap. Someone asked Bill how he achieved this sound on that poor piano, and he said “It sounded beautiful to me.”
This goes to show that if your music is truly coming from within yourself, then it doesn’t matter how the piano sounds, or what the atmosphere is, you will create beautiful sounding music.
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