Thought for the Day… on Student Performances

As I write this, I’m recovering from a long weekend spent at our local association’s annual Solo Festival event.    Tonight, as I will in the days to come this week, I had the joy of celebrating with my students – presenting them with the medals and ribbons they had earned, reading comments from their adjudicators (the judge really did notice that crescendo in measure 6 we spent weeks perfecting!) and congratulating them on successful theory exams (all that work on those bass clef notes or those tricky 7th chords paid off!).   Weeks like this are a highlight of my teaching year.

And yet, for a few students, it will be a bittersweet celebration.  Because no matter how proud of their accomplishments I may be, a few of my students will feel that they fell short of their own expectations.    The ugly truth is that, faced with the pressure of public performance (whether before a judge or an audience at an awards ceremony), student musicians don’t always play as perfectly as they do in the comfort of their home or their lessons.   Pieces that were perfectly memorized and beautifully nuanced in the weeks before the festival somehow became shaky and at times mechanical on stage.

At their lessons this week, it is my job as a teacher to pick up the pieces and coax these students back “up on the horse.”   It’s not a task I particularly look forward to.   As a performer who has “been there, done that” I know that no amount of encouragement or kind words can ever fix wounded pride and that the only cure for stage fright and inconsistency is performance experience – an awful LOT of it.   Not exactly what a student wants to hear about after months of hard work end in perceived disappointment.

This morning, as I was cleaning my studio, I ran across another poignant quote (on my desk calendar again, no less) that seemed to speak to just this very issue:

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.”

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

What a wonderful thought for us as musicians – every piece of music that we learn becomes a piece of beauty that we carry with us through this world.   Reality dictates that our students (and we, even as professional performers) will not play flawlessly every time we take the stage for an audition, competition or recital.  However, if that event motivates us to practice, seeking out and refining a beautiful sound through weeks and months of preparation, we are certainly the richer for its pursuit.  We have tucked away a thing of beauty for some future cold, rainy day.  

Perhaps my teenage students are a bit young to truly understand that thought, but in my mind, that’s about as far from disappointment as you can get.


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