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Performance Consistency II-The Experiment

by Thomas Stevens - Mon, Jan 7th, 2008
(For Trumpeters Only)

Not "one more time" or "one more once," but one time only (contradicting the Count of Basie).

The focus of the experiment was to simulate one (of many) real-time performance condition in the practice studio, one predicated on the old “no second chances” adage. This was, in our view, definitely worth a try, especially in view of circumstances in the music schools at the time*.

The ground rules were as follows:

1. Choose a piece of music of easy to moderate difficulty (for trumpeters: a Concone or Bordogni vocalise, an etude from Sachse or Werner, a segment from a Charlier study, perhaps a segment from a solo work, or a couple of orchestral excerpts).

2. Play the musical material through once, as in a performance, recording it if possible, with absolutely no stopping for any reason whatsoever.

3. When finished, there should be no revisiting of anything that didn’t go well. Going back and “wood-shedding” problematic musical passages is a standard practice in the learning of music, and it also provides a certain degree of psychological relief, allowing one to proceed with one’s daily activities as if one’s errors were forgiven; however that option doesn’t exist in the world of real-time music performances. (An integral part of the experiment was to force the students to endure what every professional performer goes through on an almost daily basis: being forced to live with the reality of one’s performances-both positive and negative aspects-with no possibilities for “do-overs.” What you hear is what you did. It represents the real you, and you must live with that-at least until the next “performance.”)

4. On the following day repeat the process, either by playing the same piece again or choosing something else.

5. Repeat the above four steps, ad infinitum.

Quotable
: “Each day you [trumpeters] have to start all over again”-
Armando Ghitalla.

In my view, this concept showed some real potential for success and was definitely worth pursuing in terms of further development and refinement. The students, however, absolutely hated it. Consequently, it went nowhere, in an applied version of the old saying that one should never try to teach a pig to sing-it is a waste of your time, and it annoys the pig. So we let it pass, which, in retrospect, was probably an error in judgment on our part because circumstances (i.e. the dearth of real-time performance opportunities for students) would appear to be even more pronounced now than they were then. As a consequence would it then not seem reasonable to suggest that today’s serious music students need to address the performance consistency issue on a now/today and everyday basis? Not during the next school term, or after one gets a new instrument, teacher, or whatever other clichéd rationalizations one frequently hears. And by all means, and perhaps most importantly not during the last few days/weeks before important juries, examinations, auditions, solo contests, or performances (cramming doesn’t work), but NOW, TODAY?


Try it; you’ll hate it.

*During my student days, (ca. late1950s-early ‘60s) most performance-oriented music students in the better music schools were expected to participate in so many student performance activities that it was always a challenge to balance those obligations with personal practice schedules, university studies, and in the large cities, efforts to get started in the “outside world” of professional music. Since the 1970s a quite different scenario has evolved where there are far more music students than there are legitimate school performance opportunities, with a resultant inordinate degree of competition and internecine politics among student populations with respect to the awarding of those limited opportunities. This has resulted in the fact many otherwise deserving students are not getting enough performance experience.


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