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Piano Recitals --- Sweat, or Sweet?


Piano recitals --- those of us past or current students or performers have probably played in them at least once or three or ten times over the years.

Do you love to play in recitals or other performances?

Maybe you get nervous for them, but then feel okay or pretty good afterwards?

Or have you had a bad experience and want nothing to do with playing for an audience ever again?

I hope not, but if you did, things can change. You're never unable to make new discoveries and replace old memories of discomfort with sweeter memories of fresh adventures.

I speak from experience. While my recital journey began positively, I found some interesting (and what I viewed as less-than-desirable) twists and turns along the performance path.

Here is a bit of my journey through recitals and other performances --- the good, the bad, and the ugly --- and what I learned from them in life:

Beginning the Recital Journey

My first two piano teachers didn't host recitals. I'd never even heard the term "recital" during those early years.

When I started with my third teacher around middle school age, I got my first introduction to performing for an audience.

And I liked it. Nervousness wasn't an issue for me.

Well, not much of one. I did spend a lot of time thinking of my recital piece while at school the day of each recital. (My teacher had one recital a year, on a spring evening in April, always a Wednesday.)

I may have used my school desk (or my lap) as a key-less keyboard for my slightly fidgety fingers on recital day. Fingering through the patterns I would play from memory later that evening.

Maybe those drumming fingertips were a little anxiety thing going there? I didn't feel scared, but who knows where that extra energy came from?

But the recitals always went fine. My hands didn't shake. I didn't forget how to play my pieces, and never worried ahead of time that I might.

The University Years, and a Surprising Twist at the End

Fast forward to my college years: music department recitals were held every Wednesday at noon. So while I didn't perform every week, I certainly played for my fellow music students and faculty much more than once a year.

And still didn't sweat through those. They were a routine part of my life. And enjoyable.

My senior piano recital, though --- well, that one was more high-stakes. A music major with at least 15 years of piano study under her belt. This had better be good.

The pressure was on.

My opening D Major Prelude and Fugue from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1, revealed my nervousness, my now-husband, then-fiance, remarked.

He's not a musician, but could plainly tell I wasn't at ease those first few minutes.

With the rest of the hour-long program, I felt fine, and the music went well. But those early moments, with the sweaty palms, the slight shake in my hands, the excessive shoulder tension --- all new distractions to deal with.

That event --- my one and only solo recital --- concluded my student years at the piano. Overall, it had been a lovely journey, and I thought my performance days were over.

However...

Years Go By...

School teaching. Babies born. Leaving the school system to raise my family at home. Teaching piano and organizing recitals for my students.

But never playing solo myself...

...until an opportunity to return to the performance stage arose.

I jumped at the chance to play in concerts with other pianists.

But what was this? I discovered, much to my dismay, a puzzling amount of performance anxiety like nothing I'd experienced in my younger years.

The trembling was bigger; the dread deeper. I knew my music confidently, but almost full awareness of the audience and minimal concentration on the notes in front of me plagued my every moment on stage.

It didn't get easier to overcome those full-blown jitters (there must be a stronger word that that) once I started playing.

Where did all that come from?

Age? Too many elapsed years since my last performance?

Too-high expectations for myself, because by then I had been a piano player for 40 years?

I don't know the answers to those questions, but I pushed through the anxiety anyway and not only survived, but, after a few more concerts, grew to find a depth of satisfaction in playing for others like I'd never experienced before.

I found joy in the giving.

How did that happen? I'm not sure. But this I learned:

Performing music is an incredible means of speaking beauty and blessing into a listener's life. The language of music ties strings, forms bonds.

And remembering that has taken away --- almost completely now --- the nervous, daunting feeling before going on stage.

It's about the audience; not me. They're there because they love music. So do I, and I have music to give.

Simple as that. And oh so deep at the same time.

Sure, some tiny pre-performance nervousness still lingers. But now, I am glad for those feelings. Because excitement and vitality have a chance to squeeze beyond the rough edges, and overflow in abundance.

The Sum of the Matter

Recitals and concerts? For me, the journey through them, and the life lessons acquired by them, have been sweet.

Even when there's been a little bit of sweat with them. :-)

Is the stage calling you? Or your own piano in your home when company is visiting?

I encourage you to (re)discover the thrill of music-making for others' benefit. It will bless you, too, sometimes in surprising ways.

Sweet times --- they await.

What memories do you have of previous recitals?

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