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When do you consider a piece ready for performance? (Read 879 times)

Offline lelle

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When do you consider a piece ready for performance?
« on: August 26, 2021, 10:58:29 PM »
Just curious what you all think about this. When I studied music we often performed pieces we had studied for a month or two. With this preparatory time it was often enough to play it adequately, at least in terms of hitting most of the keys correctly. But I think you need to live with a piece of music for quite a longer time before you really know it and give more musical depth to your performance.

On one extreme end, pianists such as Gieseking and Richter were reportedly able to learn very difficult music in a few days and then perform it (one can question if they really knew the musical ins-and-outs of the work and could make a truly deep performance with that short amount of time, though?)

On the other extreme, one of Cortot's pupils reports having been taught the following procedure for learning works: First, play it just once every morning for three months and continue working on it until it's memorized and ready to perform for friends and then drop it for a year. After one year, learn it again until it is memorized, perform it for friends, and drop it until you have forgotten it. Then relearn it a third time, and now it should be secure both in terms of memory and in terms of emotional understanding of the music.

The above procedure is probably designed for concert pianists who perform in big halls. I have never been in that situation and probably never will, but I would assume you really need to know your stuff to be able to handle that type of situation.

So what do you guys think? When is a piece actually ready? ;)



Offline quantum

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Re: When do you consider a piece ready for performance?
«Reply #1 on: August 26, 2021, 11:54:08 PM »
IMO, there is the ideal and then there is the practical.  When studying a piece long term, or just for leisure, or when studying as a student, we often have room to operate in the ideal head space.  However, when working as a professional musician, playing gigs, balancing needs of all projects we are working on, balancing life outside music, we must come to a compromise.  There will always be more room to grow and improve, but at what point can music be made presentable within a reasonable workload and time. 

To use an analogue scenario in academic writing, people that have done graduate school will relate to this, some people get blocked because they just don't know when to stop writing.  There comes a time when you just have to present your work, even if you feel you are not ready.  That act of presenting can give more clarity to the project, than if you just kept going.  That process of showing your work to others can give you a renewed focus of how to continue and expand the work. 

Made a Liszt. Need new Handel's for Soler panel & Alkan foil. Will Faure Stein on the way to pick up Mendels' sohn. Josquin get Wolfgangs Schu with Clara. Gone Chopin, I'll be Bach

Offline lelle

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Re: When do you consider a piece ready for performance?
«Reply #2 on: August 27, 2021, 11:15:24 PM »
IMO, there is the ideal and then there is the practical.  When studying a piece long term, or just for leisure, or when studying as a student, we often have room to operate in the ideal head space.  However, when working as a professional musician, playing gigs, balancing needs of all projects we are working on, balancing life outside music, we must come to a compromise.  There will always be more room to grow and improve, but at what point can music be made presentable within a reasonable workload and time. 

This makes a lot of sense. I guess pianists of the caliber of Cortot had more luxury in terms of how much time they have to learn things. I recall my first piano teacher telling me that Lang Lang has said that he learns a piece 2 years before performing it, but I don't know if that's true.

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To use an analogue scenario in academic writing, people that have done graduate school will relate to this, some people get blocked because they just don't know when to stop writing.  There comes a time when you just have to present your work, even if you feel you are not ready.  That act of presenting can give more clarity to the project, than if you just kept going.  That process of showing your work to others can give you a renewed focus of how to continue and expand the work.

Ahhh I'm terrible at this. I still ha an old essay from my uni days that isn't finished just because I want to keep polishing it over and over and over haha.

Offline anacrusis

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Re: When do you consider a piece ready for performance?
«Reply #3 on: August 29, 2021, 09:33:15 PM »
I think an argument can be made that no piece is never truly finished, since your skill as a player hopefully is always growing, and at the very least is changing over long time scales. At the same time, there is also hopefully a point where the piece is secure in your memory and secure enough technically that you feel confident about performing it, and you have spent enough time with it that every aspect of your interpretation has been deliberated and thought through,

Offline dw4rn

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Re: When do you consider a piece ready for performance?
«Reply #4 on: August 31, 2021, 07:29:21 AM »
IMO, there is the ideal and then there is the practical.  When studying a piece long term, or just for leisure, or when studying as a student, we often have room to operate in the ideal head space.  However, when working as a professional musician, playing gigs, balancing needs of all projects we are working on, balancing life outside music, we must come to a compromise.   

Yes, but on the other hand, when you're a student, you need to learn a lot of different things, so you might not have the time to make every single piece you are studying totally performance ready in the deeper sense of the word. It might still be very worth while to work at it for a couple of months and perform it in class, or even an exam.

However, there's every possibility to return to these pieces later in life, even several times. For each time, supposing you are able to practice a reasonable amount, you will hopefully get closer to not just performance ready but performance worthy...

Offline lelle

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Re: When do you consider a piece ready for performance?
«Reply #5 on: September 05, 2021, 10:42:24 PM »
Yes, but on the other hand, when you're a student, you need to learn a lot of different things, so you might not have the time to make every single piece you are studying totally performance ready in the deeper sense of the word. It might still be very worth while to work at it for a couple of months and perform it in class, or even an exam.

However, there's every possibility to return to these pieces later in life, even several times. For each time, supposing you are able to practice a reasonable amount, you will hopefully get closer to not just performance ready but performance worthy...

It's often very interesting to return to an old piece and discover how some things that previously were a challenge are now much easier, or just in general noticing what you did wrong  to make things more difficult for yourself, or just noticing what a different perspective you have gained on the musical content during the years that have passed.

Offline quantum

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Re: When do you consider a piece ready for performance?
«Reply #6 on: September 05, 2021, 11:59:40 PM »
Yes, but on the other hand, when you're a student, you need to learn a lot of different things, so you might not have the time to make every single piece you are studying totally performance ready in the deeper sense of the word. It might still be very worth while to work at it for a couple of months and perform it in class, or even an exam.

Students actually have a lot more flexibility of time than they think.  It may seem like teachers are bombarding a student with work from all the courses they take (and I partly attribute that to a lack of education in time/work management, as well as teachers and administrative bodies that design curriculum loosing perspective on how schoolwork impacts students lives).  Nonetheless, what this means is a large part of the work is school oriented, so it gives an opportunity to place oneself in a consistent mind space for working.  Professional environments, on the other hand, are much more prone to disruption, juggling non-related tasks, and dealing with people that have absolutely no clue how much time needs to be invested in learning music in order to produce a quality result.

Speaking from experience, a lot of music can be covered in an entire semester or over the summer.  Contrast that to some of the music that needed to be learned in one of the semi-professional ensembles I was a part of, sometimes 1-3 days to go from sight reading to performance ready, sometimes less than 24 hours.  Student timelines for learning music seem much more roomy in contrast. 

Made a Liszt. Need new Handel's for Soler panel & Alkan foil. Will Faure Stein on the way to pick up Mendels' sohn. Josquin get Wolfgangs Schu with Clara. Gone Chopin, I'll be Bach

Offline dw4rn

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Re: When do you consider a piece ready for performance?
«Reply #7 on: September 08, 2021, 08:11:08 AM »
Speaking from experience, a lot of music can be covered in an entire semester or over the summer.  Contrast that to some of the music that needed to be learned in one of the semi-professional ensembles I was a part of, sometimes 1-3 days to go from sight reading to performance ready, sometimes less than 24 hours.  Student timelines for learning music seem much more roomy in contrast.

It all depends on who you are and what you are going to play, I suppose. With your experience and expertise you were able to get these pieces performance ready in 24 hours or less, despite difficult circumstances. A student ensemble might have needed months to get to the same level.

A really gifted student might perform Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit with a couple of months preparation. Let him or her return to it several times over two decades or so, and the performance will keep getting more interesting.

If you are on Gieseking's or Richter's level, you can probably learn things very quickly and  still give your performance that extra wow-factor. If you are a more ordinary person, Cortot's method will likely add both interpretive depth and technical security. One aspect of this is that you may need to perform a work to take it to the next level of "readiness". I suppose this is what Cortot means with "perform for friends". 

Offline quantum

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Re: When do you consider a piece ready for performance?
«Reply #8 on: September 08, 2021, 08:43:50 PM »
It all depends on who you are and what you are going to play, I suppose.

Many young students like going after showy difficult music, nothing wrong with that.  I think that in part contributes to the false perception of some, that professional concert equals difficult music.  However, one does come to realize that a well presented concert does not always have to include works with at the difficulty of Gaspard.  If one is in a situation where they have only 24 hours to prepare, it would be wise to choose music that can be worked at within the given time constraints.  IMO wise repertoire choice is a far more insightful indicator of a well designed musical presentation.


One aspect of this is that you may need to perform a work to take it to the next level of "readiness". I suppose this is what Cortot means with "perform for friends". 

In university one of my teachers always had her students performing their works in the recital hall before they were considered ready.  We would constantly perform for each other, the current state of our repertoire.  All those insecurities one had about the music were just put out there for everyone to hear.  As everyone was in the same situation we all understood both sides of the coin.  Just play your stuff and listen to everyone else, no need to critique.  It was an extremely simple yet highly effective means for exam and concert preparation.  When it came time for the actual performance, all the rough spots had been flushed out, all the potential problem spots that only appear in performance had been identified.  One could actually enjoy the performance and be in the moment. 

In short, do perform for friends.
Made a Liszt. Need new Handel's for Soler panel & Alkan foil. Will Faure Stein on the way to pick up Mendels' sohn. Josquin get Wolfgangs Schu with Clara. Gone Chopin, I'll be Bach

Offline lelle

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Re: When do you consider a piece ready for performance?
«Reply #9 on: September 09, 2021, 07:30:01 PM »

In university one of my teachers always had her students performing their works in the recital hall before they were considered ready.  We would constantly perform for each other, the current state of our repertoire.  All those insecurities one had about the music were just put out there for everyone to hear.  As everyone was in the same situation we all understood both sides of the coin.  Just play your stuff and listen to everyone else, no need to critique.  It was an extremely simple yet highly effective means for exam and concert preparation.  When it came time for the actual performance, all the rough spots had been flushed out, all the potential problem spots that only appear in performance had been identified.  One could actually enjoy the performance and be in the moment. 

In short, do perform for friends.

We did this as well and it was nerve wracking but, in hindsight, really valuable. I find that I easily wait for ever to play something to someone because I could always polish it a bit more and there is no container where I am "forced" to play such as those lessons. Were you never asked to give feedback to each other though? We often had to, and though many people were scared to fully speak their minds that was also valuable, in my opinion.

Offline quantum

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Re: When do you consider a piece ready for performance?
«Reply #10 on: September 09, 2021, 11:40:56 PM »
Were you never asked to give feedback to each other though? We often had to, and though many people were scared to fully speak their minds that was also valuable, in my opinion.

Feedback was optional.  My teacher recognized that some people love feedback, others not so much.  So if one wanted a discussion after the performance we would have an informal one.  It was more about just playing for each other and being there. 

This activity also provided frequent opportunity to practice in the hall on the concert grands, which was valuable in itself in that we learned how to use the acoustics of the space as part of the way we sculpted music. 
Made a Liszt. Need new Handel's for Soler panel & Alkan foil. Will Faure Stein on the way to pick up Mendels' sohn. Josquin get Wolfgangs Schu with Clara. Gone Chopin, I'll be Bach

Offline lelle

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Re: When do you consider a piece ready for performance?
«Reply #11 on: September 13, 2021, 10:58:41 PM »
Feedback was optional.  My teacher recognized that some people love feedback, others not so much.  So if one wanted a discussion after the performance we would have an informal one.  It was more about just playing for each other and being there. 

This activity also provided frequent opportunity to practice in the hall on the concert grands, which was valuable in itself in that we learned how to use the acoustics of the space as part of the way we sculpted music.

That makes sense. Sometimes though, if not liking feedback is a pattern, I think in a sense those people are the ones who may need it the most. Like, there can be a certain "everything I do is great, don't you dare tell me something I actually need to hear about flaws in my approach" vibe. But at the same time, I don't think feedback should be forced onto people who don't want it.

Offline quantum

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Re: When do you consider a piece ready for performance?
«Reply #12 on: September 15, 2021, 03:10:07 PM »
Sometimes though, if not liking feedback is a pattern, I think in a sense those people are the ones who may need it the most. Like, there can be a certain "everything I do is great, don't you dare tell me something I actually need to hear about flaws in my approach" vibe.

There is also the opposite, people that gobble up feedback and always want more.  They can't seem to function without some form of feedback.  They use feedback as a distraction from looking inward and tackling the issues in their playing they very well sense themselves, yet are hesitant to take responsibility for.  They use the flood of voices that feedback provides to distance themselves from their work and the responsibility that they need to have to uphold their own work.  The self-assurance they should be building up to work as professional musicians after university is constantly being put out of sight. 

If there is something to learn from these playing for friends sessions, it is that one must be willing to make oneself vulnerable in order to grow, learn and get the most out of the experience.

Made a Liszt. Need new Handel's for Soler panel & Alkan foil. Will Faure Stein on the way to pick up Mendels' sohn. Josquin get Wolfgangs Schu with Clara. Gone Chopin, I'll be Bach

Offline lelle

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Re: When do you consider a piece ready for performance?
«Reply #13 on: September 21, 2021, 10:26:33 PM »
There is also the opposite, people that gobble up feedback and always want more.  They can't seem to function without some form of feedback.  They use feedback as a distraction from looking inward and tackling the issues in their playing they very well sense themselves, yet are hesitant to take responsibility for.  They use the flood of voices that feedback provides to distance themselves from their work and the responsibility that they need to have to uphold their own work.  The self-assurance they should be building up to work as professional musicians after university is constantly being put out of sight. 

If there is something to learn from these playing for friends sessions, it is that one must be willing to make oneself vulnerable in order to grow, learn and get the most out of the experience.

I understand what you are saying. I had a phase where I wanted the teacher to tell me exactly what I needed to do so I then could be told that I was playing well because I did what was asked. When I came to a new teacher who said rather little to encourage their students to develop independence of thought and artistry I became very frustrated. Knowing exactly how much, or how little, to guide a student seems like a whole art form that I'm glad I'm not responsible for succeeding at, at this time.