Wednesday, March 12, 2008

processing speed

What happened when you clicked the little browser icon to open up the internet this morning? If your computer is anything like mine, a little hourglass probably appeared. And then nothing much happened for a while. Bored, you got up to make some tea, then came back and found that Gmail had finally made its appearance.

This isn't a post about how my computer sucks -- rather, I think it's kind of interesting how even these insanely slick, efficient machines still take a little while to get anything operating correctly. And I want to suggest that maybe we should allow our own, far older thinking technology some extra time in between tasks as well.

The particular task I've been thinking about lately -- playing audition excerpts -- demands a lot from that old technology. Within 20 or 30 seconds, they call for extremes of dynamics, articulation, speed, expression -- and then you'll have to play something with completely different demands. A lot of the work of really great excerpt playing, therefore, happens between the excerpts -- in those 30 or 40 or 60 seconds you give yourself to load up the next program.

Often we don't give ourselves that processing time, though. Or if we do, we're not quite sure how to organize our thoughts. We might start out imagining the first few measures, then remember the note we cacked last time, and spend another 30 seconds in panic, anger, or self-flagellation. (Well, maybe no actual self-flagellation, unless you brought a whip on stage.) It's like your computer started to load up Firefox, then crashed instead -- I hate it when that happens!

The point is to get into the right mental space to play well, not to spin around on a carousel with all your excerpt baggage. A horn player who I played for the other day suggested hearing the involved passage coming up later, not just the first few measures -- to hear the tempo where things will actually get a bit tricky, and hear it working well. After I did this for a Bach movement, taking the time to imagine the whole 16-bar phrase that usually fouls me up, it went fantastically better -- even the easier stuff at the beginning sounded more confident and secure.

So I'm just throwing this out, and wondering if anyone else has pre-excerpt mental strategies to share. If the committee gets bored waiting, they can always go start some tea.

1 comment:

L. said...

Hey Matt. Great post! I think those Don Greene "Post it notes" for each excerpt are helpful for me. Its a quick way of automatically switching gears if you pick a really good word for each excerpt. Also, I heard of one horn player who imagined being conducted through each excerpt before he began playing. That way he was actually thinking of what it would be like IN the orchestra.

One thing I've been grappling with in my practicing is playing things exactly how I want to sound and not accepting any less. Perhaps, though, this is the same-- you need to practice thinking about each excerpt so that it becomes automatic. Easier said than done, maybe, but it might work. Just throwing it out there.

I'm in C-town next week. See you then, I hope!