My student’s issue is that she loses her focus during long pieces and stops being able to play well. She starts out great and then her mind wanders and then her air stops, or her fingers fall apart, and then her brain freezes up and she spirals straight into self-loathing.
She brought a new piece to our last session and complained about the same symptom. In the past, we’ve focused on solving the OBOE PLAYING bits – can you stay attached to your AIR? Can you SLOW DOWN as you move through these intervals so your fingers know what to do? It’s helped, but not solved the problem.
This time we took the piece itself apart down to the level of micro phrases. It was really interesting to watch, because she resisted every minute of analysis but then had AHA after AHA as we built the piece back up two bars at a time. What she WANTED was to swoosh through the whole thing, FEELING the music the way she felt it, and have it just WORK. And that wasn’t successful for her, and hadn’t been.
We eventually created a PLAN that prompted her to think about something slightly different every two bars – a change in dynamic, a change in the direction or speed of her air, a change in color. We put WORDS on each micro phrase – this one STANDS ALONE. This one MOVES FORWARD. This one ECHOES. This one BUILDS.
And with these checkpoints in place, and notated, and agreed upon, she was able to stay engaged the whole time, and successfully play the page without losing her focus and spiraling.
This tactic, of making a PLAN, is valuable for everyone. Sometimes we have a FEELING about what the piece is about, what we want to share. Sometimes we know a piece so well we assume that everyone around us understands it too. But it takes a surprising amount of energy to get your intuitive understanding OUT of your head, into your body, through the oboe to the audience. If your plan is even a little wobbly in places, if you kind of just fall back on playing notes and rhythms for a while in the middle – they can tell! And maybe it’s not as exaggerated a meltdown as my client experiences – but in your heart you can tell too.
I’m not an over-analyzer by nature, not a particularly academic performer. I ALSO like it to be intuitive and easy. But I hate the feeling of wandering aimlessly through a phrase hoping to find my bearings. I feel more responsibility than that – to the composer, to the music, to the audience. Even if my interpretation later changes, I need to commit to a plan, commit to my understanding of the architecture of a piece, so I can keep myself grounded as I move through the music in real time.
Making a PLAN makes the difference.