Preparing for Performance {Subtracting Improvisational Energy from Emotional Energy}

Preparing for Performance

{Subtracting Improvisational Energy from Emotional Energy}


It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles.

Then the victory is yours.

It cannot be taken from you.



As you approach a performance, remember:  performing is not about inspiration or improvisation.

So many soloists take pride in the improvisational nature of their interpretations, in their lack of pre-definition – this defines immaturity.  A polished performance results from working through as many of your improvisational tendencies in the practice room as possible and defining beforehand the mold that you will fill with emotional energy at the moment of performance.  Performing is complex enough without adding in improvisation.  Remember that freedom is not the equivalent of improvisation.

An improvised performance, even by Beethoven himself, lacks the underlying levels of definition and polish that a prepared interpretation possesses.  The subliminal levels of subtlety are missing.  Remember that muscle memory is an important aspect of performing.  So much of what you prepare is absorbed by your body and flows out of you without conscious thought or control.  Take advantage of this – don’t sabotage it!  It’s self-defeating and destroys the countless moments of previous inspiration and improvisation that have influenced your interpretation and become a part of you.  You only struggle against yourself.  The improviser comes away feeling like he gave the most wonderful performance until he listens to the playback { if he has the courage… } and hears the work of a hack.  Improvisation and exploration is extremely important, but it belongs as much as possible in the practice room. 

This is not an argument for not following you intuition in the moment of performance.  When intuition speaks, you must listen, especially in the moment of performance.  You must be true to yourself, and this may naturally force improvisational elements into your performance.  But know yourself!  Know how to inspire these inspirations out into the open before the big performance. 

You have to practice performing, not simply practice practicing.  As a performance approaches, schedule as many pre-performance run-throughs as you need to work out anxieties, uncertainties and improvisational tendencies.  A friend or a colleague should suffice, or a group of friends.  I find that performing is the greatest definer of your interpretation.  The pressure and excitement of the moment heightens your senses and forces you to constantly choose definitively.  Listening to the playback of a concert or pre-performance is like taking a lesson from yourself about yourself and your interpretation.


The stage should not be a foreign space in your imagination – it’s your home.  The more time you spend on stage, and the earlier in your life you begin performing onstage, the more it will be your element.  A soprano friend of mine likes to say to young aspiring singers, Perform at the opening of an envelope!  


When you accept yourself, the Universe accepts you.

~ Lao Tzu