Saturday, April 2, 2011


Here's a great masterclass by Daniel Matsukawa, talking mostly about the Firebird solo, and how to play legato. I have great trouble with smooth legato playing, so this is something I'd like to work on. But at one point he also talks a bit about focus, and how he deals with nerves when approaching a big solo. It's not just a matter of "I get nervous" or "I don't get nervous", everyone does, to a greater or lesser extent. He says he prefers to focus on the music, to be present, to be in the moment. This certainly resonates with my experience. Many times I have been playing, and thinking aloud to myself about the fact that I wasn't present, or in a total flow... Really, if you're thinking about your level of focus, or thinking verbally about anything, then pretty much by definition you've lost focus. I don't know of any tricks for getting it back, I wish I did, no doubt it's a matter of, um, practice and focus. And the damage to losing focus can be immediate: I recall when recording Mozart runthroughs to check my memory work when losing focus for just a beat or two was sufficient to get the fingers fumbling. Maybe it's easier for people who meditate, or who have less analytical personalities, I don't know. Unfortunately, that's not how I am.

I had an experience trying to regain focus under pressure recently. I was subbing in on 2nd for a community orchestra playing at a retirement centre. For reasons too embarrassing to detail, even pseudonymously, I was very distracted when I began performing. Every nerve was tense and alert, brain on overdrive, fingers shaking, full fight or flight response. Fortunately my music was straightforward and unexposed. The analytical part of my brain was able to say, it's okay, the half-life of adrenaline is 2 minutes, it'll be like this until the adrenaline is gone, and there's nothing to do but wait and do your best despite everything in the meantime. And eventually, I was able to get sufficiently into the moment to be able to play my part. So maybe that's a useful trick: being able to relax about being unable to relax.

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