It was one of those flashback moments.
I was helping a student prepare for her first orchestra experience and suddenly, I was twelve years old, in my teacher’s studio, hearing her tell me some of the very same things.
My teacher was Marilyn Costello, principal harpist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, so obviously she was an expert at orchestral playing. Despite the thorough preparation she gave me, there were parts of my early orchestra experience that no one could have prepared me for.
There was the octogenarian conductor with the thick German accent who addressed me in rehearsal only as “leeetle gerrrrl.” There was the odd feeling of being alone in the middle of this large group, being the only harpist, the only musician without a “section” of colleagues and friends. And there was the strange experience of not playing continuously, of contributing in small, isolated moments, and counting vast numbers of bars of rests.
As I grew to understand my role as...
“A bell's not a bell 'til you ring it - A song's not a song 'til you sing it - Love in your heart wasn't put there to stay - Love isn't love 'til you give it away!”
― Oscar Hammerstein, II, lyrics from “Sixteen Going On Seventeen” from The Sound of Music
If there’s one statement that always furrows my brow, it’s this one: “Oh, I don’t want to perform. I just want to play for my own pleasure.”
I understand that a performance can add pressure that takes away from the enjoyment of playing music. Further, I completely agree that we should always play for our own pleasure. If we don’t enjoy it, what would be the point in working so hard at it?
But I firmly believe that we should not play only for our own pleasure. Music is a means of communication, particularly for thoughts that are hard to express in words. Also, if your music pleases you, why wouldn’t it please others too?
I’d like to suggest that we...
The close-up of the soloist reveals the look of intense concentration on her face. The performer’s total commitment to the music is visible in her closed eyes and slightly furrowed brow. There is strength and beauty in her expression.
A quick ramble through YouTube videos will reveal a wide variety of “concert faces.” Some of the most remarkable will be found in videos of live performances filmed by audience members.
What is an appropriate expression for when you’re playing? Do you smile or frown? Ignore the audience or acknowledge them? Grimace or grin when you’ve made a mistake?
The easy answer would be that it depends on the situation. While that’s true enough, it isn’t really helpful for a musician who is self-conscious about his or her own facial expression.
Don’t Make a Face!
Of course, we all know what we aren’t supposed to show on our faces; we aren’t supposed to react to our mistakes. Gliding over the missed...