What to wear for gigs? An epiphany

Earlier this month I was getting ready for a gig and agonizing over what to wear. Long dress? Short dress? Pants? All black? Color? As usual, I had a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear. I settled on a nondescript, semi-formal, all-black outfit and hoped I would not appear on camera.

When I arrived on site and met my collaborator, I thought, “He’s so lucky. All he has to do is throw on a black suit, and he’s perfectly dressed for any occasion.” And then it hit me. I, too, can throw on a black suit, and who’s going to stop me?

The more I thought about it, the more appealing wearing a suit became. If I’m required to wear all black, I can wear a black blouse under the jacket. If I’m feeling bold, I can swap in a colorful blouse or statement jewelry. If it’s cold, I can easily layer both tops and bottoms. (I swear by Uniqlo Heattech.)

A suit may not be the right attire for every occasion, but it’s an easy, safe default for a collaborative pianist. A girly-girl at heart, I’ll keep wearing dresses in warm weather, but for the other 9 months of the year (thanks, Boston), don’t be surprised to see me in a suit!

Why I f’ed up: thoughts on performance anxiety (Part 1)

Assuming one is adequately prepared, why do mistakes still happen in performance? Some possibilities from my personal experience:

a) Distraction: Thinking about something non-musically related and performing on auto-pilot. Sometimes auto-pilot works just fine, but switching focus back to music is when things go wrong.

b) Evaluation: Thinking, “That could’ve been better,” or “This is going well!” Whether positive or negative, evaluation means I’m thinking about what already happened instead of listening and being in the moment. Not much different from a) in effect.

c) Self-doubt: Thinking, “Do I remember the fingering/notes here?” “Can I play this part?” Obviously the answer is “yes,” but the second I doubt it, I screw it up.

d) Forgetting: Some things require extra concentration or intentional counting to execute, and I don’t remember to do it unless it’s written in my score. (I’m sorry to report this worsens with age.)

e) Accidents: Sometimes mistakes just happen because we’re human.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Strategies to avoid f’ing up!

Tips for relearning music

As I child I used to hate when my teacher asked me to relearn pieces I had played before. One teacher tried to persuade me, “Relearning a piece is like visiting an old friend,” an analogy that meant little to 13-year-old me.

Nowadays I’m so inundated with new music that I’m usually relieved when I don’t need to learn a piece from scratch. Although in a few cases I’ve thought relearning a piece was more like visiting an old enemy than an old friend, I have a few tips to ease the process for friends and enemies alike.

Relearn it while you sleep. I swear by this trick, but it still amazes me every time. The first day, I’ll play the entire piece once through without stopping, mistakes and all. After a night’s sleep, my brain seems to retrieve the music from long-term storage. The next day my memory of the piece is magically improved, and I continue practicing from there.

You can read more about the phenomenon of learning while sleeping over at Bulletproof Musician.

Fingerings: take them or leave them. Sometimes I kick myself for not writing down the fingering I used previously. Sometimes I try my old fingering and think, “Who came up with this shitty fingering?” In the past I’ve wasted time trying to master a previous fingering, thinking that if it worked for me before, it must work again. Now I just give fingerings a try or two and come up with a new one if they don’t work.

Don’t begin at the beginning. Instead of relearning the piece from beginning to end, I start with the most difficult passages. If nothing stands out as being particularly troublesome, I work from the end to the beginning, since most likely I learned it the other way around the first time.

How do you feel about relearning old pieces? Do you have any tips or tricks?