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Back on Stage...(II)

After my renewed confrontation with stage fright on the last Open Stage in Nordhorn, I became a bit doubtful. Luckily my contribution to the yearly recital evening of my own guitar teacher encouraged me a bit, so my pessimism decreased. Thus I decided to attend the second Open Podium with Kulturhaus NIHZ.

This time I took the structured approach and actually applied the hints from the previous On Stage Again.

I selected the pieces of my program with plenty of time to spare: Four pieces by the French composer Alfred Cottin. He lived in the last half of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twenyieth century. He composed mainly musique de salon with romantic features, comparably to the music of Madame Pratten in England, yet a bit more cheerful.

Alfred Cottin is completely forgotten in these days, his most important feat is his name on the score of Recuerdos de la Alhambra by Tarrega. The latter dedicated this piece to "the eminent guitarist Alfred Cottin".

I had four pieces in mind Barcarolle, Danse des Lutins (Goblin’s Dance), Sous les Palmiers and Les Clochettes. After a bit of experimenting with the level of difficulty I decided to play them in this sequence.

Relatively speaking, Barcarolle is the slowest piece, though the swing of the 6/8 measure must be clear, so speed should not be too low. The main challenges are a few excursions to the higher positions. Stay calm and do not accellerate, that’s the trick, the last movement to the 12th fret is within a ritenuto, so take it nice and easy. Take a breath and play on.

Danse des Lutins is a fun piece. Goblins are no elegant creatures, so you can use the introduction to make this clear. The first line of the piece is a kind of Aufforderung zum Tanz, perfect to show their clumsyness. Then the waltz starts in 3/8 time. The melody includes triplets that are not quite obvious with speed, so I will not worry too much about the exact duration. In the middle section the key changes to A major. The opportunity for a clear slowdown that diminishes after some time, back to a tempo. Then there is a section that requires careful attention. The transition from 12th to first position must be deliberate, but there is plenty of time because of the ritenuto.

Sous les Palmiers is a bit of a weird piece, yet I will play it because of the joyful middle section. Stay calm and use the ritenuto in the middle section to pay the two voice run correctly.

Les Clochettes is a fun piece to finish the recital. It also has the passages that require a bit of warm-up, that’s why I play it last. The middle section shows the little bells (clochettes) by means of natural harmonics. It contains a passages with slides to the 12th fret. Do not apply too much pressure, it will prevent you from sliding easily, particularly with sweaty fingers. Playing lightly, that is the key for the complete piece, do not make your left hand heavy.

I changed the piece a bit for performance purposes, the second repeat of the fourth theme was inserted by me. A little scale run A - B - C - D bridges the gap. Take care, this one differs from the corresponding runs elsewhere in the piece!

I started to study the pieces together in the sequence that I wanted to play them. Holiday time was a perfect opportunity for this. In the mean time I changed the sequence a bit (Sous les Palmiers used to be the last piece) and edited the scores. Les Clochettes got an extra repeat and changed layout from on page to two pages. I deliberately practiced with the new score for easy reading during the performance.

For the purpose of the recital I made a separate print-out to be able to make tactical notes and the fingering. I put the pieces in a separate binder, I will not play from the book. The reason is that I must stay focused, if I am playing from a book I cannot resist browsing for pieces. I have put the pieces in the binder in sequence, that minimizes page turns.

I realized that I played passages that required a close look on the finger board by heart in the end. Consequentially I had to practice "the return to score reading" deliberately, to prevent loosing contact with the score as a consequence. Another reason to play music by heart. Yet I do not dare to do this in concert.

At the last Open Stage I was impeded by the stage lighting, the contrast caused problems with score reading. I felt insecure as a consequence. That was the reason why I bought a MightyBright music stand light that can be attached to the stand or the binder. It is battery operated and has two heads in order to illuminate two pages. The heads with LED bulps are flexibly mounted, so it is possible to adjust the lighting.

I practiced with it at home, because you have to attach the device and adjust it in such a way that the audience is not bothered by the light. It might cause problems on an raised stage like the one in Nordhorn. I also practiced playing with the LED light on in the complete dark. The illumination of the score was OK. The reflected light from the paper even enabled me to see the finger board, yet it was not completely illuminated.

In the dark, I could assess which passages were a bit insecure. Looking out of the corner of your eyes while you are reading a score appears quite important. I hope that the theatre offers more ambient light. Anyway, I felt better prepared for the stage environment than last time.

Gradually I started to play the program on a daily basis. Once slow and easy, once on the intended tempo. In the end I measured the elapsed time including pauses between the pieces and I ended up on about 12 minutes, quite the recital time for the Open Podium.

An extremely useful step appeared to take a deep breath in advance and "visualize" the first measures in your mind. In terms of the pulse of the piece rather than of exact count. This also helped me to regain the a tempo after a ritenuto.

Of course I took the pieces with me to my guitar lesson. I admit the timing was not perfect, it’s hardly practical to implement changes in interpretation and fingering just one week before the big day!

As a finishing touch I rehearsed my announcement. I guess that could be better, I failed to make the little note in my binder. I was doubtful about the timing: one announcement for all, or separate announcements for the individual pieces.

I guess my preparation is pretty complete now, although I do not know the pieces by heart.

Yet at this very moment ( a few hour before the concert) I am not quite sure indeed! I feel a kind of increased sense of alertness and my solar plexus is quite sensitive. So I have a certain degree of stress. I hope it gets better after some acclimatization on the Open Podium. Just in case Erna will test and prepare a Bach remedy for me this afternoon (no don’t be afraid, these are no tranquillizers).

I guess some readers will say now: "Why for heaven’s sake would you want to play with a sense of insecurity?" It’s hard to explain, this urge to play. Yet I will play with what I have. In this way I’ll have some material for the next On stage Again!

Some time later...

After the pasta at home, my stage fright had increased to 38.1 degree Centigrade. It’s soo weird, I haven’t suffered from it for a long time. This sounds more dramatic than it is, I guess, a long time ago I became restless days before a recital.

The drive from Hengelo to Nordhorn appeared a perfect opportunity to practice my announcement (please stay focused on the traffic too!). I do not have a particularly loud voice, so I have to switch it on deliberately. Just like the breath support for singers. After a few attempts I knew what I was going to say. It was funny to notice that I formulated such that the audience would not know how many pieces I was going to play. Looks like an escape to use the ejection seat in case of emergency. Man’s psychology has in incredible functional design!

After I passed the border at Noord Deurningen, I got a funny feeling. Willkommen in Deutschland!

Ooooh, Scheisse!

What did I do? Well, I practiced my announcement in Dutch. Schnell uebersetzen! Meine Damen und Herren, guten abend.... Ich werde fuer Sie spielen.. As an advantegous side effect, this consideration distracted me from my stage worries.

I found my standard parking spot near the school and swallowed a bit of the water with my Bach remedy for a start.

Duo NIHZ opened the stage according to tradition after the gong-beat (a firm sound, it looks like if you are playing Tarkus by Emerson, Lake and Palmer)

After the performance of members of Herr Baumann’s guitar school, the stage was for me. I was the only player with a classical repertoire this night, the Open Stage offers a nice and rich variety of styles.

Because everyone had his own setup and equipment, the layout of the stage was not fixed. Consequentially I needed some time for my start-up ritual. That’s not too bad because it gives you time to get concentrated. I set up my music stand, put the binder on it, attached, switched on and adjusted my "score light" (the audience was suprised about this device), sat down, opened the guitar case, lifted the guitar, attached my Ergoplay and put the tuner on the headstock. Allllright, I was there!

Tuning required only a little adjustment. My Kwakkel guitar is quite stable if the strings are more than a week old.

It was a pity that the music stand could not be set lower, so I got a little hidden behind the binder. I guess I should try to position the stand left of me. It opens you more for the audience and I think that this visual contact is important.

The chair was a bit higher than the one I use at home. Looking back I think that I should have adjusted my Ergoplay, because my musical memory in some way uses my position too.

There it was... my announcement in German. Later that night it showed that the announcements -Im Fremdsprache for most of us-were a source of humour!!

Barcarolle went according to plan. The nicely coloured stage lighting blurred the vision a bit, I could hardly see the difference between my G and D string. I should consider that next time! Practicing in the dark at home bore its fruits here!

I was glad to notice that my stress did not increase in the progress. I did not pass the trouble spots completely free of failure, yet I went on without self-reproach. I kept going despite the little slips.

Danse des Lutins, Sous les Palmiers and Les Clochettes followed without major problems. Thus this recital developed into a much more enjoyable experience than last time. After a rewarding applause (and a few nice reactions in the break) my motivation to reappear the next time was boosted.

My experiences with the Mighty Bright "score light" were quite positive. It helped me focusing, it increased my concentration.

After my little recital an enjoyable mix of styles unfolded on stage. A singer made a nice performance with 75% music and 25% talk while he accompanied himself and enjoyed the company of a motivated solo guitarist. Guitar School Baumann was in the race with a few well-known songs with assistance of Eddie -Are you Ready, Eddie- on the Congas. A father-daughter ensemble on steelstring brought us back to the time of the songs of an early Boudewijn de Groot. Another solo guitarist played a potpourri of Classical Gas and I Needed You as a try-out for his performance on the wedding of an old friend. The old blues singer was there again with some striking examples of this rich repertoire. The man with the flamenco style combined his Spanish songs with some nostalgia a la Bob Dylan with his blues harp.

The Open Stage went on until ten o’ clock, in accordance with the regulations (yes, there are quite a number of regulations for a music establishment and the late night rest after ten is one of them).

Time for the apres-musique! This On-Stage Again deserves another issue!