Pre-concert routines: a fresh naive view contrasted by one formed out of years of experience

Posted By on December 18, 2010

Recently, I enjoyed a very interesting conversation with a young lady, a soprano from America who is studying in Berlin. We were collaborating on a concert project here in Luxembourg. As is my afternoon custom, we sat at a nice cafe and began this discussion.

I asked her if she had a particular routine she observes on the day of a concert. She answered emphatically “no”, and went on to explain why. Basically she doesn’t want to become “addicted” to odd little habits, superstitions and chemicals (caffeine included) which so many other artists have embraced. She prefers to remain pure. I explained to her that I like to have a warm-up in the morning, and a small bit of playing in the afternoon. Then I like to take a siesta after lunch, knock down a hefty coffee in the late afternoon, shower, dress and warm-up once again at the hall, preferably an hour or so before the concert. I also find it necessary to assess my “chop” and mind condition: if my lips are chap, I keep applying some sort of a salve. If they are swollen, I may take an aspirin. If I am jet-lagged or a bit sleepy, I may have another coffee. If I feel nervous about a particular concert, I may even take a beta blocker (although, this has become less and less necessary as I have gotten older). And then I fairly run to the pub for a beer immediately following the concert. I don’t know what it is. It just makes the whole thing complete.

Well, my young friend said she likes to sleep very late on the day of a concert. But other than that, she has remained “crutch free”. Then she sipped at her chamomile tea. I then asked her how she came to the conclusion that lots of sleep on the day of a concert is something she always likes to “observe”. And of course she said that she has found that she does indeed have a splendid voice when a long and rewarding sleep has been achieved the night before. So I said to her, “Just imagine that tonight’s concert goes absolutely swimmingly. Your voice is perfect, your concentration sharpened, and you are as calm as a sloth. And then, let’s imagine that you receive an offer to perform a Bach Cantata with a well-known baroque specialist in Berlin. On the day of the concert, you are a bit tense, and this causes you to have trouble focusing, something that happens to every performer. And then you remember, ah ha, in Luxembourg, doing that concert with Turner, I had a chamomile tea and that really put things straight. Why, it worked like a charm! And it indeed does work like a charm on the concert that evening. The only thing different that you did, besides of course sleeping very late and having the chamomile tea, was that you took a good long walk in the late afternoon, only to clear your mind and get some fresh air. And you say to yourself, “you know, I’m going to do that again next time I have a concert like this.” And you do. And it becomes a really fine habit which you enjoy on the day of a concert.

And then let’s say you have been offered a great position with a highly recognized opera house in Germany. You have received your repertoire for the season ( a couple of really juicy roles), and you have told your vocal coach that you really require six weeks to prepare each role. “I don’t know”, you say, “It seems to be the magic amount of time before I feel comfortable with the part and the music.” “Oh and by the way,” you continue, “could you please bring me some of that Italian sparkling water. It feels great on my voice, and with this salary, I’m not taking any chances.”

“Uh oh”, I say, “sounds like a routine forming.”

You see, my young, lovely collaborator that evening was basing her “purist” and dare I say “Utopian” ideas about a pre-concert routine on her minuscule performance experience. And above all, her experience as a non-paid performer. When you are receiving a top salary for your performances, or when you have developed such a reputation that concert goers desire nothing else than to hear you sing or play like a god, and they are willing to pay top dollar in order to be thrilled by you, it changes the entire way you think about concert preparation. One is absolutely obliged to find a method of preparation and execution which will stabilize one’s performance to a thoroughly consistent and dependable level. And one will do just about anything to assure that this happens.

After the concert was finished, she said, “you know, I think I should’ve warmed a bit more before the gig.”

“You will remember that next time,” I answered.

And so it begins……

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