Performing

Posts about performing music, recitals, concerts. Topics could cover stage fright, how to have a good recital, etc.

It has been a year since I created an amazing opportunity for my students – paid gigs! 

Every Saturday and Sunday afternoon (except Christmas, Easter, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day), one of my private students performs at a local restaurant for two hours. They get a small stipend, a free meal, and whatever tips they happen to receive from customers! This program has been so successful, and I will share with our dear MusicTeachersHelper blog readers on how you can create a similar one for your students!

  1. Find a restaurant with a piano. The one I work with has a baby brand. It is a very nice, upscale restaurant, and has a newly opened wine tasting lounge – perfect for live entertainment. 
  2. Talk to the owner. My program started because the restaurant was looking for a classical pianist who can perform for two hours every Saturday and Sunday. Someone gave them my number, I said I could not do it myself, since I have a baby and weekends are precious time, but I offered my students. Based on my studio reputation and student success, they accepted. (This is why you absolutely must have a studio website and Facebook page to showcase your students!) 
  3. Negotiate the terms. How much will the students get paid, if any? Can they expect tips? What else? Perhaps a free meal? My students and I are very lucky that the restaurant we deal with is very generous. Obviously the students should not expect professional fees, but some sort of stipend should be negotiated. It really motivates the students!

Benefits for the students

This program has greatly benefited my students. It gives them real life, professional performance experience. As mentioned before, they also get paid and a free meal, and many have made handsome tips. Kids love money, and food! It really motivates them to practice harder so they can be ready for their next paid gig. Many students, after having performed once, tell me they realize they don’t have enough repertoire (two hours solo playing is not a short time!), so they are motivated to learn new pieces. It is also good to send those that have a major exam or competition coming up so they can test-drive their program. I also use it as an incentive – “if you finish learning all these pieces you will be ready to perform at the restaurant and make some money!” Many of my students are very seasoned performers now because of this program. Their sight reading skills have also improved dramatically, as I tell them to sight read some easy classics so they can fill their two hours. They have gained confidence (for many it was the first time they ever got paid), learned the value of hard work, responsibility, and time management skills. The restaurant was so impressed with one particular student, that he got his own gig deal! One door opens another. 

Benefits for me

It is a lot of work to coordinate. The restaurant does not contact the students. All they know is that someone will show up every Saturday and Sunday. I do all the communication. I book who is to perform when, and I use Music Teachers Helper to help me keep track. I do it for free, and my students get all the stipends and tips. Every Saturday and Sunday at 3pm I expect a text from whoever should be there to let me know they showed up. At 5pm I expect another text to let me know things went well. Every now and then something unexpected can happen – for example one time the restaurant had a private party and forgot to tell me not to send someone, or the manager is away and no one is in charge, so I have to chase down the payment on behalf of the student, or the student has an emergency or is sick so I have to quickly find a replacement, etc. It is extra work for me. But all of this is giving me publicity as well, as I ask that my students put my business cards on the piano. Mostly, knowing that my students are greatly benefiting from this experience is why I do it. The parents really appreciate it, too, and they know this program is unique, no other teachers offer it.

Benefits for the restaurant

The restaurant gets new customers. Parents go, grandparents go, friends go, to support the students. They find out the restaurant exists. It is now on their list of dine out options. I also tell everyone I know how wonderful it is that they support live classical music. It truly is amazing that a business would do this, and I convey my appreciation to them often. 

What unique opportunities do you offer your students?

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We all have felt it before a performance: the jitters, the knocking knees, the slight panic that sets in prior to walking out on stage. Whether with a group or solo, musicians feel nervous before performances to varying degrees, and this is especially true of students. As instructors, directors, and teachers know all too well, some students can pull it together and appear calm, cool, and collected – even at an early age. Others, however, are just the opposite and start sweating, pacing, panicking, and can even experience heart palpitations and shortness of breath because of pre-performance anxiety.

As teachers and mentors, it is our obligation to help students calm down and regain their composure before a performance. Encouraging effective coping mechanisms can make a world of difference not just in how they feel pre-performance, but also during the performance and long afterwards, too. Following are some of the best tips we can use to help students ease anxiety before performances at any age:

The importance of practice

1. You know the importance of practice, but does your student? Seriously, think about it for a minute. Teachers tell students that practicing is important, but do your students realize that with practice, not only will they become better players, but they will also become better musicians and face much less stress before performances? Have you told them that the more they practice, the better they’ll be able to recover if they make a mistake, and the fewer jitters they’ll have beforehand? If they practice enough to almost play it in their sleep, students will feel more confident and less nervous. Encourage students to run through their pieces a few times each day before a performance.

Arrive early

2. Encourage your students to arrive early to the venue whenever there is a performance. The last thing a performer needs is to take on additional stress from running behind schedule on performance day. When your student has time to prepare and can take his or her time tuning and warming up, frazzled nerves will be calmed and jitters can more easily be soothed. Having to rush can cause undue stress on top of a lot of stress that is already present.

Visualization techniques

3. Many teachers find that teaching their students visualization techniques, which have been proven to help with performance anxiety in many ways, is one of the best ways to help with performance nerves. Professional performers use these techniques in a variety of applications, from public speakers to athletes to musicians. This is a type of meditation that has students visualizing his or her perfect performance. The more details that the student can include in the visualization, the better. They should visualize their breaths, the notes they will play, the audience, and their fingers moving. They can consider visualization as mental rehearsal, which over time can improve performances because the brain won’t tell the difference between the visualization and the real thing.

The importance of breathing

4. Breathing techniques involve controlled breathing that is a natural, effective way to reduce stress and anxiety. Students can sit in a comfortable position, whatever they may choose. With their chin pointed down as close to the chest as possible, they should close their eyes and inhale to a count of five, then exhale for five. Then, the chin movement should be repeated but this time, the count both times should be extended to 10. Many students find it helpful if they also visualize something positive, like the audience giving them a standing ovation or a peaceful waterfall.

Anxiety? get help.

5. Some students may continue to struggle with anxiety on performance day despite trying these techniques. If your student continues to suffer from a level of anxiety that is strong enough to consider further intervention, it may be best to instruct him or her to talk to their doctor. He or she might be able to begin taking a natural supplement, over-the-counter medication, or prescription drug to help, although the risk of side effects from medications may pose additional issues.

Your students will be able to overcome their jittery nerves before performances with your guidance, encouragement, and instruction. Mental rehearsals, controlled breathing, making good time, and conscientious preparation are all healthy ways for the student to cope and if all else fails, his or her doctor may be able to assist further; your student will be able to cope with various levels of stress in a variety of settings and circumstances, with your help.

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I carried on for a while not fully realizing how much I didn’t enjoy my music anymore.

Music was the money-maker that put me on planes to sing, record, and perform in Hawaii, New York, and almost every state in between. I had an enviable life in the eyes of many.  

(If you missed the first part of Stacey’s story, click here for part 1)

Opportunities seemed to fall in my lap — and they would occasionally reignite the flame of my music:

  • Recording for two projects on EMI records
  • Getting to work with Celine Dion
  • Getting to fly to the town where the President (at that time) lived as we performed a concert there with other amazing artists

Those were the firework times of excitement — but mostly, I was restless with discontent and all the technicolor living I had been doing seemed to fade to grey tones when I looked at my life.

I was this woman who, as a little girl spent all her extra time on the piano; and now I was resentful of sitting down at it. All those days and nights as a kid in New Jersey with my big, puffy headphones on listening to my 8-track, and then in Connecticut as a teen with cassettes, and eventually California as a young adult with CDs full of my favorite artists — all of those were traded for talk radio or silence as I drove the 405 freeway up to Los Angeles for another gig.

I guess when you’re looking for a change, sometimes life brings you an unexpected one.

At the age of 27, I ended up pretty ill. The doctors couldn’t figure out why, but after a scrillion tests and a year and half later, they told me to get my affairs in order (because they thought I was dying), and that if I did live that I’d never have children.

I stopped everything and examined my life.

The nitty, gritty.

The “what was driving me?” kind of questions.

Not questions about music, but about me. What was going on, on the inside of me?

The answers came back in my introspection. How I was driven by Fear, by performing for others in relationships as “the good girl”, “the hard-working, responsible girl”… as a way to be worthy of their love.

I realized that I was working so much because I didn’t want to stop and rest. Because when I did stop… when I did rest, the noise in my head was non-stop criticism of me. The voice that lived in my head wasn’t a kind one that told me how proud it was of me. Nope. It was negative, judgmental, always looking for my faults instead of my goodness. When I kept moving, working, and the music turned on then, I couldn’t hear my inner static and angst.

Slowing down, being sick while aiming to be healthy meant evaluating my life those next couple of years. In that reflective time, I was able to see that I had lost my love, not only for my music, but for me.

I also realized that my love for music needed a certain environment to be in: It needed to have a certain trust and hope that life was good and everything was going to be okay.

I didn’t feel that way and so, I used music — not as an expression of my joy anymore — but to provide safety for my life that I didn’t feel in other places.

I know it’s really heavy and deep but there’s something that I’ve learned:

That it’s hard to feel joy when you don’t feel safe.

My lack of joy in my music was to me, a signpost that I didn’t feel safe.

It was partly because of how I was raised in my crazy home and some of those after-effects and realities were catching up to me in my 20’s. It was partly some crappy spirituality that sent fear-based messages that made me live like I was being chased by a bear, only it was called “God.” It was partly because of my marriage that was not a balanced partnership and I was more committed to people thinking we were okay than I was to letting myself be known in my pain.

Different things contributed to it but it was basically me not able to find my joy again.

Music is an expression of the heart. We can’t live the passion of the music without the connection back to the heart of who we are.

In all my fear and messy stuff in my head and life, I had lost touch with heart of the music because the heart of the music doesn’t just live in the song, it lives in me.

That was my journey… to get back to the heart of me.

There’s so much more to the story… about the healing my mind and heart experienced. The healing my spirituality experienced. The healing my body experienced. The healing my marriage experienced. All of those were the long and winding road stories that I write about in my books. I knew that as I was healing — that something was shifting.

After having two boys (that the doctor’s said I’d never have) we moved to upstate New York for a two-year stint, working at a church.

It was another rainy day, something we had often like my New Jersey childhood but unlike my Southern California experience. At the same time, it was a different day for me. It was a marker moment when I could see that my life had healed to a different place of safety and reconnection to my heart.

I was ready. I could tell.

I asked my husband if I could have my iPod back. He had been borrowing it since I had zero interest in anything other than the music I had to do for my work for a few years. On this particularly different day, I gave him a piece of paper with one song on it.  He smiled and disappeared into the room for about 5 minutes and came back and handed my iPod to me.

I looked at him with gratitude, put my earbuds in, stepped out the front door into the drizzle that was falling and looked up. I didn’t care about the conditions, I was on a mission…

I walked up and down the street, on the crooked sidewalks, with the skies opening up as Natasha Bedingfield was in my head singing, “Unwritten”:


“I break tradition,
Sometimes my tries
Are outside the lines
We’ve been conditioned to not make mistakes,
But I can’t live that way, no…

Feel the rain on your skin.
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in.
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips.
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still Unwritten.”

 

What a powerful moment.

Because it wasn’t just a moment when I was reconnecting to the music that I was starting to love again, it was reconnecting to my life — my soul… my heart… where the music lived in me.




Feeling Burnout? I totally get it! Here are some valuable questions and tips to get you back:

Valuable Questions:

  • Why am I a music teacher? What inspired me?
  • What other things in life inspire me?
  • Do I feel like I’m making enough money to feel safe or do I feel like I’m just squeaking by and every month is a stress?
  • Do I feel safe and happy in the other parts of my life that matter? My health, my spirituality and my key relationships?
  • Do I feel like I’m being honored in my work? (Remembering that honor comes first from us toward us and then, is reflected in our work relationships. People don’t honor you in their attitude, dollars, or time if you don’t honor yourself in those areas.)
  • Does my life have a good balance of the ratio between work and play?
  • Is there something I’m afraid to tackle in my business that is taking all the fun out it?
  • Is there a part of my business that I dread that I can either be equipped and trained in or that I can outsource? (That’s part of why Music Teacher’s Helper exists — to take the burdensome parts out of our hands so that we can focus our energy on teaching.)

 

Valuable Tips:

  • Taking the advice of the Shaman’s to make sure that each day is filled with singing, dancing, playing an instrument… for the sake of joy. This is separate from your work.
  • Read Julia Cameron’s classic: “The Artist’s Way” — In The Artist’s Way, she talks about taking an Artist’s Date each week. Something where you get to enjoy an antique shop, a comedy club, a poet’s reading, a jazz concert, a painting class — something where you’re feeding YOUR soul with what inspires you.
  • Take a day off. Non-stop work can create burnout.
  • Fill in these blanks: “If this ________________ were out of my life/different in my life, THEN, I would be happier.”  And, “If this __________________ were in my life, THEN, I would be happier.”

 

Remember: if there’s something that can make a difference in your experience of life, the most important thing to remember is that you’re in charge of making it.

I’m excited for you to return to the joy that inspired you into this beautiful art form called “Music!”

Keep on as you remember that your joy and your life makes such a difference in the joy and lives of others!

Stacey Robbins

(Here’s the photo of Stacey, her husband, and their boys)

 

 

 

Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

Photo by Kat Smith from Pexels

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

 

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