(Photo credit: thinkmedialabs)

I don’t know about you, but the toughest part of performing for me is walking on stage and getting started.

I usually get to feel at home on the stage after a little while, but it takes time. Part of that is because we always practice our technique and our pieces, but we don’t practice walking on stage. And starting. We don’t practice this much outside of the concert itself. No wonder it’s harder than it should be.

With this in mind, we tried something new in studio class yesterday. We used the time for everyone – one after the other – to walk on stage, give oral program notes, and then play the first 20-30 seconds of their piece. Next! We repeated this speed-performing exercise for the whole period. So instead of just having one experience now and then of walking on stage (the rest of the group supplied applause to enhance the verisimilitude of the experience) at a dress rehearsal and then the concert itself, everyone had a number of chances in a short time frame. I noticed that players got noticeable better at speaking and starting with each repetition.

I made notes on points for improvement:

Beginnings (collection)

•Move slowly. Being on stage is a kind of altered reality where, very often, movements are faster than normal. Fast movement conveys unease, anxiety, even being not completely in control. Slower movement and fewer movements convey calm and comfort on stage. You thus can control to a large extent how the audience feels about you even before you play a note. Slow down!

•Don’t recite your program note information, don’t read it off a card. Don’t memorize it. Improvise it, i.e. know the material so well that you are able to say your little speech in a different way each time. Make it feel more conversational instead of a stilted reading; but also speak up, a little louder than a normal voice so that the folks in the back hear you.

•Look at the audience when you speak. Don’t let your eyes dart around the room or stare at a note card. Hold still; don’t fidget with hands or feet. Use a pleasant, but relaxed smile, not a forced or exaggerated one.

•You don’t have to look at the audience until you get to where you are performing on the stage. If the clapping stops before you get there, you don’t have to bow.

•Be aware that eyebrows might want to comment on your playing while you’re playing. Don’t let them. If you can, make a video of yourself and get some feedback on your body language and facial expressions before, during, and after performing.

•Take your time. Take a moment after your program notes to take a deep breath, focus on the sheet music, tune out everything else.

•When you are done playing, don’t yank the horn down instantly. The spirit of the music continues for a few seconds after the sound stops. Keep the horn up  – 1…2….3…. and – down. Smile. Bow. Look appreciatively at your audience. Then gather your music, turn, and exit. Not too fast. They are still formulating their opinions of you until you disappear from view.


It was a good session. We will definitely be doing this again. Next time, however, I will video all the performances so that people can see themselves later and learn from that.

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