What is your take on music concerts?
Do you relish the chance to get up in front of people and play or do you shiver at the thought of all those eyes staring at you just waiting for you to make a mistake?
Playing at a music concert can be a very rewarding experience. It can also be the most terrifying thing you have ever done.
Either way music concerts are here to stay. Students learning to play musical instruments will most likely be asked to share their musical skills in a public concert sooner or later.
Lucky you if you play in the school band and you can hide somewhere towards the back in amongst the brass!
Piano players don’t get off so lightly. We have to present front and centre, right where everyone can see us, hear us and worse than that, hear our mistakes!
Speaking of mistakes, aren’t these an inevitable part of normal life? What person has never made a mistake? What pianist has not ever made a mistake? Mistakes are part of learning and learning is a life long activity.
When I was a teenager learning piano with my dear music teacher, Miss McGregor, she asked me to play at her annual music concert. I agreed to play. When I performed it was my first time playing in front of an audience. I did not know a single person there except my mother. The concert was held in the Theosophical Society Hall in Adelaide. The tile of the hall matched it size and the whole event was very overwhelming. Nevertheless I went out the front to play when my name was called and to this day I recall that yes, I did make a mistake. Did I pass out? No. Did I complain? No. When Miss McGregor asked me to play the following year did I say yes? NO!
Miss McGregor was the dearest, sweetest music teacher a student could have, but she was older than I am now when I started lessons with her :). The divide between our mindsets was huge. She was used to formalities, strict etiquette and a “proper” approach to piano lessons which did not include me learning any modern music. When I answered her request to play for the second time with a negative, she simply said: “We must learn to be gracious, dear.”
Gracious? I was 14 years old. Well, I’ve been working on it but graciousness is not one of my strong points. However I did play at the second concert, I did make more mistakes and I went on to be a music teacher myself, so maybe the experience wasn’t that bad.
What the experience of the ensuing years of concerts and music exams taught me was that nerves of playing in front of an audience and an examiner are manageable. In learning to manage my nerves I also learnt to manage my time, my emotions and my preferences. I went on to play the piano for many decades for public concerts, school class performances, weddings, funerals and church services. Each time I played there were a few nerves. I believe nervous feelings are healthy. If we are too complacent about a performance we may not prepare sufficiently to play well.
Thankfully there is a modern, alternative approach to music concerts for students.
After I started teaching I needed to prepare concerts for my own students.
I was determined to create an atmosphere of fun, enjoyment, sharing and relaxation where young children may be playing for the very first time in public.
I discovered a few ways teachers and parents can help children manage music concerts. I have listed these below and I am sure you have a few of your own strategies as well.
1. I realised that mentioning that there may be nerves and chatting about ways to manage these was very helpful to the students.
2. Knowing that mistakes are a normal part of life also helps to calm the nerves. Everyone is going through the same issues. Do we criticise someone else when they play? No, so they are probably not criticising us either.
3. Noticing and recognising parts of the music score that may cause technical issues allows students to work harder on these areas before a concert.
4. Creating a mini-concert at home before the real concert can help students get the feel for playing in front of others.
As teachers and parents we can help our kids to let go of the stress and tension surrounding the fear of making mistakes.
We can encourage them to embrace the joy that they can give others by playing their lovely music, just like Heston does!