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Back on Stage...

Music is for sharing, that’s the motto of the guitar pedagogue Aaron Shearer. For the player this implies a performance (from time to time). I like to do that, although the urge to perform (at all cost) fortunately has diminished quite a bit.

It had been some time ago that I performed for the last time. Since the Guitar Club broke up I had not set a foot on stage.

There was a new opportunity, however, the Open Stage at Kulturhaus NIHZ in Nordhorn. You could go there - admission free - and announce that you want to play something. In that case you had about 15 minutes on-stage time. Playing was not compulsory, however, you could just sit and listen to fellow-guitarists too.

I left home in good spirits with the score of Sonate Ms 87 by Paganini and some other little pieces in my bag. Full of ambition to make a good performance.

The open stage evening was well visited. A group of young guitarists and about seven solo players (including me, said the old fool) would play their pieces.

The first choice to make is "when do you want to perform?" Do you go first or are you waiting for the stress to accumulate a bit? Well in this case this die was cast, the kids went first because they could not play too late.

I frankly admit that I felt some stage fright before actually hitting the stage. That surprised me, because normally it starts on stage rather than before. It’s clear that I do not perform on guitar sufficiently often to obtain a basic routine and confidence, experiences are wearing off. Additionally I felt this new audience as an insecurity.

Hence it became quite difficult for me to practice the philosophical concept Live in the Present! during the performance of my predecessors on stage. Involuntarily I was thinking about how I would be on stage. This unintentionally increases the stress factor.

Of course, if you sense a mood like this, you could call off with the reason Not in the Right Mood for an Optimal Performance or the well known Jan Akkerman paradigma No, sorry (and dashes off-stage). Trouble was, that I had come here to perform one way or the other!

So after the break I hit the stage. Fortunately beforehand I found some opportunity to browse through the pieces in a flash. Stepping up I immediately encountered something I had not practiced at home. It was the lighting!

The multi-colour LED spotlights were quite atmospheric, yet they caused a clear disadvantage for the player. The strings and frets reflected a bright rainbow of colours, particular the treble strings, so it became quite tricky to discriminate e.g. a B string from a G string. During performances I usually play from score. Reading, however, was a bit hampered by the backlighting.

These conditions are of no concern if you can play the piece blindly under the condition that you feel secure. However if you are a bit visually oriented like me, this lighting aspect becomes a handicap under stress conditions.

A player that appeared after me was far more assertive at that point, he requested a floor lamp for score reading. Little disadvantage was that it shone the audience right in the face.

Because I was in Germany, I had to introduce myself and announce the pieces in German. It took some looking for the right words! Advantage is, that your story does not become too long.

I started with the Minuetto from the Paganini Sonata. It was a funny feeling, sensing some heavy fingers at the first notes already. I succeeded playing on without clear interruptions, yet I felt a nasty struggle within myself. It was the effect of the battle between the two players that is described in The Inner Game of Music.

Fortunately I could recover a bit in the minore section, bit it did not yield a sense of great satisfaction with me. The negative polarity from The Inner Game of Music almost got the better of me! I was glad that the audience had a positive reaction indeed!

Yet I decided to skip the Rondo -too risky in my current mood- and I played a concluding piece that I had brought with me as fall-back. The audience was satisfied with my performance, the reactions of some people afterwards were an indication for it.

Well, satisfaction was not exactly what I felt myself.. How did that happen?

Pumping Nylon by Scott Tennant quotes a famous baseball coach John Wooden: Failing to Prepare is Preparing to Fail.

That’s where it went wrong!

It was not exactly true that I completely failed my preparation. I had studied the piece thoroughly (I almost knew it by heart), I had played before a small audience, I had recorded it for evaluation and I even took it to a masterclass for tactical and technical hints. Yet the weak point that seemed to be "studied away" returned mercilessly. Apparently the preparation had not been sufficient.

Evaluating this situation, I would give myself (and you if you like to read it) the following hints:

  1. Deliberately make a programme. "I guess I’ll play this or that piece" is not sufficient. You have to choose what to play. With oncalls as well. Make working copies of your pieces.
    :-) If I have to look for my piece to play in a book, I tend to get distracted by other pieces: "ah, this looks like fun to play too!" Make sure you concentrate on the programme you selected!
  2. Choose material that you master under stress circumstances. That requires a dose of self-knowledge. You can help yourself with the selection, recording the pieces you would like to play on stage. After about ten minutes you replay the recording while assuming the role of audience: "As a listener, would I appreciate this piece and the way it is played?"
    If yes, give it a try! If no, estimate the effort required to get the piece "stage-ready" in due time. If you cannot make it, select a piece where your level of mastery is higher. A well played "easy" piece is much more fun for yourself and the audience than a Via Dolorosa "on high level".
  3. Study the piece until you have the feeling that you can play the complete piece without hesitation. This security prevents surprised panick during the performance. If you notice hesitations, deal with them individually during your study.
  4. If you play the piece well in your study, slightly increase the stress. Record yourself and make a note of all spots where you are hesitating in some way. Again, deal with them individually during your study. If you succeed making a recording without hesitation, you have security on a higher stress level.
  5. Extend your discussion of a piece in the guitar instruction from "being able to play" to "being able to perform". Usually this requires some extra sessions to complete the piece. The positive side is a greater security under performance circumstances.
  6. Analyze your pieces and find out its structure. Where are the points that enable you to breathe and if necessary recover from a slip? Note these points in the score if you are playing from paper, or remember them if you are playing by heart.
  7. If you want to play multiple pieces in a programme, excercise this complete programme too! Make sure that you insert short pauses between the pieces, for clear separation and for recovery if necessary.
  8. Take a look at the stage where you are going to play and analyse the situation. Check the lighting, if it bothers you or helps you. If it bothers you, ask the lighting technician to change settings and if necessary add some flood light to decrease contrast. It cannot be that "atmospheric lighting" hampers your performance as a musician. Stage lighting must help you and not counteract!
  9. If you play from the score, check if there is sufficient light to read. If not, ask for some extra light (flood light or subtle spot light). Or use a small LED light that you can attach to the music stand (take care not to blind the audience). Also in this case, lighting must help you and not counteract!

:-))) I’ll definitely try all these points next time!

As a matter of fact, the Open Stage Kulturhaus NIHZ developed into a fun night, its guitarists brought many styles. I heard Latin, fingerpicking, flamenco, blues and (arrangements of) pop songs.

An "All Play Together Now!"of La Bamba (Ritchie Valens) closed a nice evening.