“Practice as if you are the worst, perform as if you are the best.”
When I was a young singer, I struggled with how to prepare for a performance. I had been taught technique, I knew how to practice for hours and hours to perfect a piece, but I had little guidance and knowledge of how to prepare the month of, week of, or day of a performance. I knew how to work hard, but not how to rest! It took years of experimenting to determine how I should prepare to perform.
Over the years I have been teaching I have been experimenting with how to best prepare my students for their performances.
As I prepare my students for their recital performance in the final month before the performance, I drop the breath support exercises, the “woodshedding” and work on building my students comfort with singing through their pieces completely.
I have discovered that as I teach a new piece, my system is roughly as follows:
1) I introduce the piece to the student. We discuss the poetry or text of the song or aria, using the translation if the piece is in another language. We discuss the opera, show or song cycle the piece is from and its relevant history, and the song/arias style.
2) We sing through the notes – learning the chorus and melodies, and emphasizing any patterns we may find in the song or aria – particularly with pieces with coloratura or melismatic phrases or sections.
3) We then begin to woodshed or work section by section. I usually begin the rehearsal by singing through the piece in its entirety and then move to the “woodshedding”, or focusing on trouble spots and phrases.
4) We then begin the final month performance prep tapering.
Performance prep tapering:
When the performance month occurs I usually drop the extra exercises – for example glottal exercises, enunciation exercises, and breath support exercises – are laid aside. All singers must be off of their music at this time. During this month we work on:
1) Dramatic interpretation.
2) Appearance when singing.
3) Completing the song/aria without “self-editing”.
$) A confident and believable performance.
I encourage my students to rest, hydrate, and care for themselves. At two weeks prior to the recital I stop critiquing and begin encouraging the positive aspects of the performance, nudging and coaxing out the performance. Confidence is such a large part of performance! At two weeks for most young singers– the die is cast- and you can rely on the best they can do at that time to be their optimal technical peak for the performance.
This fall I will add a new piece to my performance prep: an instruction sheet for parents of young singers! I had one young singer who did not do her best at this recital due to exhaustion. She swam in a swim meet the day of the performance, and vocally was not up to the piece she performed so well at the two week prior to the performance mark. This I will add to my checklist!