Creating and developing a performance is not the same as learning and practising a piece. The preparation of a performance is the training that a musician does in order to make an interpretation of a piece of music in front of an audience.
It is very important to realise of the difference between playing and performing a piece. To perform (in classical music) means to play, as a result of a practising process, freely and with expression in front of an audience. Any instrumentalist can play, but the aim of the musician has to be expressing something through the music.
The performer should start wondering what is wanted from the audience to think about the piece and about the player itself. The purpose of a performance is to communicate, and to do so, the performer needs to feel what is wanted to communicate first and to have a very clear idea of what is the inner content of the music, in order to be able to exteriorise it.
Any performer has been some time in its life part of an audience. In other words, it has been a listener and enjoys music as well. When the listener becomes the player, it tries to reproduce the enjoyment of listening to music (this time making the music by its own), and to pass that feeling to others. A convincing performance is that one which makes the audience to have a good/bad/sad/happy… time through a confident and expressive playing.
As the composer’s messenger, the performer transforms something written into a paper into actual sound and expression. The music has then timing limits: it has a beginning and an end. The performer has to make the music say something in that space of time.
The performer is an interpreter of someone else’s ideas, and has to follow the wishes of the composer. Interpretation is not a matter of giving personality to music. Every performer is a different person, so playing the music with sincerity will be enough to bring to life a unique performance, different to any other.
In classical music, the key to be sincere in a performance (and therefore to please the audience and the player) is to have a perfect knowledge of the piece, and to be confident about its technical aspects. This will help very much to free from physical limitations and to allow the player to communicate freely.
The process of developing a performance
1) Reading the piece (short time memory)
Before the stage of the final performance, there is a whole process of learning a piece: reading, memorising, understanding…
I have set here three primary stages, from the very beginning to the first sight reading lecture:
a) General view of the score: How does the piece look like? Does it look difficult? Which style is it? Who is the composer? Is it very long? Which is its general structure?
b) More concrete view: key, bar, tempo, character…
c) Reading of the piece with the instrument: sorting out the right notes, rhythms, dynamics, approximate changes of tempo…
At this stage the music has already been transformed into sound. Not still in a very communicative way or in the right tempo (sight reading tents to be slower in fast movements) and it is very difficult that a piece of music that has been played only once could be memorised. It still belongs to the short-term memory. The process that will bring the piece from the short-term memory to the long- term memory is called rehearsing or practising.
2) Practising and/or memorising (long term memory)
Rehearsing or practising is the intermediate step between the reading process and the real performance.
Some performers are not required to play from memory (specially wind players and chamber musicians). But for pianists, singers, string players… it is very important to start memorising while practising. As a flute player, I recommend very much to perform from memory. It gives the musician more freedom on the stage and helps the practice process to be done in a deeper way.
The steps at this point would be:
a) Locate the difficult passages.
b) Mark breathing points.
c) Practice in separate bits.
d) Solve the technical difficulties.
e) Bring the piece to the correct tempo/s.
f) Memorise by visualising mentally the score, remembering the structure of the piece, the movement of the fingers and the name of the notes and its melody.
Any musician who is preparing a performance should take care of the expression while practising. One should never forget:
– To see which different expressions can be found in the piece.
– To give the music and expressive feeling.
– To practice the technique which suits the different expressions.
– To feel the expression as something personal and deep inside oneself, rather than something which is only for the audience.
3) Creating the performance
The piece has been already learned, practised and memorised. Some useful ways to prepare a performance are:
– To reproduce mentally in the practice room the real performance situation.
– To perform when possible for family and friends.
– To listen to recordings of great performers realising of their palette of colours, dynamics and engagement capacity and to try to enlarge ours as well.
– Going to concerts and observe how professionals behave in the stage.
All this will make us to assume how pleasing can a performance be and to realise how lucky we are to have the chance to move and touch others through our interpretation.
By Isabel Serra Bargalló
Guildhall School of Music and Drama
Master Degree in Music Performance
Psychology for Musicians
Prof. Jane Davidson
London, November 2000