Preparing for Big Performances
I had an email this week from a quartet I worked with last year asking for any tips or advice for preparing for competition. They have about 6 rehearsals to go, so this was a great time to ask. I’m answering the question in terms of preparing for any ‘big’ performance, where ‘big’ refers not to length of set (contest performances, after all, tend to brevity), but to the emotional importance of the occasion, and how long it has been anticipated.
(I’m leaving aside for today the question about whether people should consider competitions important. Not all contests matter to the same extent after all, and different groups will care to different levels. Let’s just accept that the one in question is important for this quartet, for all kinds of reasons, of which a competitive spirit is only one.)
So, things it is good to do include:
- Start adding elements of the full performance, not just rehearsing the songs themselves. Practise you stage entrance, accepting applause, etc. Do this as a quartet, and also do it as trios with one standing out to observe and feed back. Do this in the shoes you will be performing in.
- Mental rehearsal. Run the whole performance in your imagination, from waiting in the wings until getting off stage again. Get used to the sensations of facing your audience, of inviting them into your musical world, of producing what you have rehearsed in its complete form.
- Spend a lot of time duetting. This is where all the deep polishing goes on as you refine your capacity to hear what each other are doing.
- Clarify and articulate your goals for the occasion as a group and as individuals. ‘Doing as well as we can’ is not specific enough to focus either your rehearsal or your performance. More useful goals identify how you would like an audience to feel in response to your performance, and skills you have acquired you would like to exercise well. Build your goals in terms of things that are within your control, and you will enjoy the whole occasion better.
The main thing you want to avoid doing is lots of straight runs-through. These embed habit without adding improvement. They are useful at an early stage of learning songs when you need to build your sense of overall shape and continuity of memory, but when you are into the count-down to your big event, these elements should already be well in place.
In particular, make sure that the first time you sing your songs all the way through on the day of the big performance is actually in the performance. Go on stage with unfinished business. So often you hear people say they left their best performance in the warm-up room. If you stop before the end of the song in warm-up, this can’t happen.
That’s enough from me. I’m sure my correspondent would like to hear from other people what works for them too, so feel free to comment!