Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday. Happy Earth Day weekend!
I used to schedule my Spring semester recitals during this time of year when I was in college. I really liked having the 4 months or so after the Christmas break to strategically plan out my recital preparations and budget my personal practice time as well as rehearsal time with my accompanist. Fall always seemed a bit more frantic and filled with distractions (there are so many holidays and celebrations in the Fall months). Hosting a recital at the end of the Spring semester was almost like a reward for a year’s worth of hard work. Many of you reading this may also be preparing for your Spring semester recitals and searching for a few words of wisdom to help you get to the finish line. Today’s blog features my top 20 Dos and Don’ts of recital preparation. Number 19 is probably the most important tip and I urge all of you to enjoy the process. No matter what happens, have fun! If making music is not fun then we are going about it all wrong.
TOP 20 DOS AND DON’TS OF RECITAL PREP
- DO plan out your practice schedule well in advance. That’s right – Make yourself a weekly schedule detailing exactly which pieces you plan to target and in what order. This can be done on a simple Excel spreadsheet or on your Google Calendar.
- DON’T cram practice. Sunday evenings are ripe for opportunities to cram practice for the upcoming week. This will eventually lead to burnout and delayed progress. Instead…
- DO make sure you are practicing for about the same amount of time each day. Practicing is a lot like exercise; Daily progress will build up muscle more efficiently than spending every Sunday at the gym. Likewise, daily practice will help develop stronger performances than periodic marathon practice sessions.
- DON’T wait until the last minute to rehearse with your accompanist. Start early with weekly rehearsals if possible. If this isn’t possible either due to crazy schedules or financial constraints…
- DO invest in SmartMusic or a similar music accompaniment program. This will really help you practice fitting your solo part into the piano accompaniment outside of rehearsals with your accompanist. Listen for piano cues and try to distinguish between your role as a soloist and moments when you are accompaniment.
- DON’T always begin rehearsing at the beginning of a piece. Isolate weaker sections of your music and try to devote more time to breaking those parts down, practicing slowly with a metronome, and putting them back together gradually. If you always start at the beginning, you will have a strong opening but your piece may crumble when the going gets tough in the middle of work.
- DO combine flute and piano works with smaller chamber group performances, if possible. A strict flute and piano recital may be predictable and mono-tone. Chamber music adds a bit of variety with the addition of other instruments.
- DON’T forget to add a flute solo piece between longer flute and piano works. The weirder, the better. I love to slip in a contemporary work between a Bach Sonata and an explosive French Flute School piece. This keeps the program interesting for your audience and helps display the variety of repertoire available for the flute.
- DO add a piece featuring the piccolo, alto, or bass flute, if possible. This also promotes variety in your program by showcasing the entire flute family.
- DON’T forget about intonation. Bracket any selections in your music that contain long sustained tones and integrate intonation practice on these tones (using a tuner) into your daily practice. Practice making crescendos and decrescendos on these tone while sustaining the pitch. It is easy to forget about intonation in the midst of stressful recital preparation.
- DO select a recital outfit that is both professional and comfortable. Despite popular opinion, you do not need to be red carpet ready to perform a recital. The difference between a flutist performing a recital and an actor attending an award ceremony is that flutists are performing a physical activity onstage for roughly an hour. You wouldn’t expect to see a football player playing in the Super Bowl wearing a suit, would you? Make sure that your outfit allows you to breathe comfortably, stand with good posture, and allows for easy arm movement. Add a pop of color with a beautiful scarf or accessory.
- DON’T wear heels, ladies. This is not only painful after an hour of standing, but it will also mess with your posture and equilibrium. Pick a pair of simple black flats that will help center your posture and connect your feet closer to the ground. I always like to tell the story of how I fell down a flight of stairs at a middle school band concert because I was wearing impractical, but very cute, black heels. I ended up damaging my instrument and butchering an exposed flute solo due to a bent rod on my instrument. If I had just wore different shoes that night…
- DO schedule time to rehearse in your performance space at least 1 week prior to your recital. I know in many instances this may not be possible, but it is very important to prepare yourself in advance for balance issues in the room and potential distractions from the stage (including lighting difficulties). This is also a good time to make sure the piano on stage is tuned properly.
- DON’T ignore performance anxiety. Even if you feel confident and relaxed in the days prior to your performance, you cannot predict the anxiety that may arise backstage or even onstage. Practice breathing techniques, meditation, yoga, and positive self-talk as the recital date draws near. Use a breathing bag backstage to combat rising anxiety quickly. Most importantly….
- DO schedule a session with an Alexander Technique instructor prior to your performance. You may be tensing up and not realize it! Your Alexander Technique practitioner will help you identify where you are misusing your muscles and how to effectively let go of tension.
- DON’T stress about the after party. There is often a reception that follows a recital. Delegate reception set up to your friends, family, or even another flutist whose reception could be your future trade off. Panic over the number of mini muffins should not interfere with your presentation. Save the drama for Obama.
- DO make sure you have enough music stands and that they are placed exactly where you need them on stage. There will typically be an usher backstage that will work with you to make sure these logistics are perfect. Communicate with them but let them take care of everything. No need to micromanage.
- DON’T schedule anything else on the day of your recital, if possible. This is your day and you do not need extra distractions or potential stressors to get in the way of your success. Everything can wait until tomorrow.
- DO enjoy the process. Remember that no matter what happens or how well or poorly your performance is, tomorrow is another day. You are not defined by one performance. In that case, simply enjoy whatever happens. Live in the moment. Enjoy the success and hard work that got you to this point. Good job!
- DON’T dwell on mistakes. Use mistakes as a way to improve your next performance. Everybody makes mistakes! You can either choose to let them destroy you or use them to make your next performance stronger.
What helps you prepare for a recital? What obstacles do you typically face and what do you do to address these issues? What are your own Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to recital prep? Please comment below.