“A loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou.” Omar Khayyam
For the rest of the month of August, my Choral Potpourri and Choral Ethics Blog will focus on things to get you thinking so you are able to hit the ground running in the fall. Every Thursday, while you are sipping a nice, cold adult beverage on a patio somewhere with your feet up, I will be giving you some things to ponder to make your choral life easier.
Have you ever thought about what you need to perform, either as a performer or conductor? I am not speaking of practice. Or how much light on stage or a bowl of blue M & Ms in the Green Room. I assume you know how much practice or what you need physically or how many rehearsals you need to perform to the best of your ability. I am asking what you need leading up to your concerts. Do you know?
All this started a few weeks ago when one of my students complained about never feeling prepared for a concert. I asked what she meant. She tells me she is flustered and stressed and never feels right. She is more than adequately prepared and is a beautiful performer, so at first I was at a loss. Then I shared what I know about myself before a performance and the conversation flowed. I need different things as a singer than I do as a conductor. I need about eight hours of sleep before both types of performance but that’s where the similarities end.
As a singer, I need to be quiet for at least 24 hours, more if I can manage. I need my usual morning cup of coffee but before a singing performance THAT’S ALL. The rest of the time it’s tea, either herbal or regular depending on the time of year, until after. I may eat a banana or another piece of fruit but not much else. I need to run my aria, several times, in my mind, not necessarily singing it but having it play in my head. I need the time to do so. My family (usually) knows enough not to bother me with stupid stuff they are able to handle. While it’s nice to know we need kitchen trash bags, I am perfectly willing for them to run out and get them. They can put them in the kitchen trash can themselves too!
As a conductor, I am uber-prepared. I need to proofread the program at least three times before it is printed. I need to know where my physical music is and need to have at least three complete copies of whatever my chamber choir is performing in my car two days before. I need to speak softly. I need to run through the concert in my mind at least twice, the day before. I usually eat a piece of toast with some peanut butter but am queasy if I have anything else. And I need to breathe! I need to know about the health of my “delicate flower” of a tenor the day before. And then, I need to let it go and accept whatever will be, will be.
Do I always get what I need before a performance? Heck no! I’ve conducted with my back in spasm, drugged and held together with ace bandages. I’ve conducted after vomiting through the night, drinking tea and praying I wouldn’t pass out during the concert. I’ve had floods in my basement, one of my kids in a car accident and two of the three trumpets in a trumpet trio back out the morning of a concert—all of that not for the same concert, thankfully! My preparations helped me get through the concert crazies and I did fine in those concerts, falling apart when I got home.
My son-the-pianist needs a plate of pancakes with maple syrup several hours before he gives a recital. He says his full stomach makes him feel good and he’s more comfortable playing. I made him pancakes before his first concerto competition when he was 14 or 15 and it has become somewhat of a tradition.
So, what do you need? Think about your best performance and your life leading up to it. Did you eat certain things? Did someone make your favorite meal for you? How much sleep did you get? Think of those things easiest to replicate and try them next time. Share what you need here; we’re interested!