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Preparing to perform

You bought a concert ticket for $110 to see your favorite solo musician live on stage. When you arrive to the venue, the auditorium is buzzing with excitement. The lights dim, and the musician walks out onto center stage. They are calm, poised and confident. They are ready to perform.

A student holds a bassoon. Photo by Caleb Wolf.

However, they are terrified. They’re sweating already, they’re thinking about the passage at the bottom of page two that they should have spent more time on, they can feel the heat of the lights, and they know that every pair of eyes is fixed on them.

Any performer needs to put in hours of dedication and practice in order to be fully prepared for a performance. Aside from physical musical practice, there is a great deal of psychological work that goes into being prepared, such as dealing with nerves and being calm while onstage. As listeners of music, it’s valuable to know the preparation process for a performance so that it can be better appreciated and understood.

Daniel Ingram is a music education major at Chemeketa. His primary instrument is tuba, and he performs with the Chemeketa band.

Musicians have different means of preparing for a performance. Ingram shared how he readies himself.

“I have to be comfortable with the music before anything; I have to be confident in what I’m doing before I go out there, or else the well-deserved self-doubt of not having your piece together takes over,” Ingram said. “Aside from that, I’ve been playing since I was in elementary school, so stage fright isn’t necessarily an aspect of it.”

When asked to discuss practicing habits, Ingram said, “[It] definitely depends on the difficulty of the piece. So, for tuba solos, I definitely prefer to have weeks to work on it, but when it comes to a concert piece, I could have a concert piece for tuba within a couple rehearsals and have it ready for performance. Like, if I was in an ensemble group, a few weeks in advance.”

As far as balancing music with school and work, Ingram had more to share. “I wouldn’t define it so much as a balance as much as doing it whenever I can. I go to work full time, go to school full time and I practice in all the free time between that.”

Cassandra Firmin is a dual-enrolled student at Chemeketa and Western Oregon University. She is in the Wind Ensemble and Percussion Ensemble at Western and has been playing percussion for seven years.

“[When receiving new music], I always take it out and I analyze the music,” Firmin said. “I listen to recordings of it so that I don’t go into it empty handed when I practice. I do lots of score study, for as much time as possible. I hate sight reading, so I like having it before, so I’m prepared,” said Firmin.

When asked about preparing for a performance, Firmin shared some of her practicing tactics.

“I always have nerves; I just know how to play with them more than I used to. I will ask my friends to come watch me play stuff beforehand so I can get a few reps of the performance in front of people. I know if I didn’t do that, I’d freak out. When I go up there, I have ‘fake confidence,’ so I appear really confident, but I’m not. I just learned how to mask that I’m really nervous, and that’s just come with years and years of practicing.”

For Firmin, finding time for daily practice can be challenging.

“I put practicing first. I try to practice five hours a day, so I make sure that’s the first thing I do, and then I save all the other stuff. I have to physically put it in my schedule, make sacrifices in my social life.”

Kimberly Petesky, another Chemeketa student, who has been playing cello for ten years. She’s been in orchestra since the fourth grade, and was first stand in high school.

“I kind of ignore the fact that there’s going to be people in the audience. If you pretend it’s just an empty auditorium, it makes it a lot easier. Plus, you can’t really see the audience with all the lights on you. So that, and then just deep breaths if you ever freak out a bit,” said Petesky.

Being ready for a performance takes meticulous score analysis, hours of instrumental practice and focused dedication. After countless hours of preparation, they lift their instrument…and begin to play perfectly.

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