Time seemed to accelerate during the final segment of the tour. "Wake up - eat breakfast - hop in the van - dress rehearsal - concert - head to hotel" became the familiar routine. And yet, we found ourselves trying to shirk any sort of musical routine; digging deeper and continuing to discover new and beautiful elements to share with our audiences. Subtleties in timing and dynamics that may have been left to chance early on in the learning process were now significant decisions that could alter the entire energy of the performance. We explored the balance of staying honest with a score and infusing it with our own interpretation.
I'd like to share three aspects of musical exploration that I feel are essential to finding this balance:
As performers, we should remember that the majority of the audience usually does not have a relationship with the pieces we are playing that is nearly as intimate as the one we develop through the learning process. The audience is not looking at scores as we play (thankfully!). They are there to enjoy, feel, and experience the soundscape we convey to them. But, because they get to hear the music that is second-nature to us just once - we must help them connect with it instantly.
What a neat challenge and special responsibility!
A couple years ago, I wrote about one of the challenges we pianists all face: adjusting "instantly" to the piano you are given for your performance. As much as we wish we could bring our favorite piano on the road with us, we have to make do with what we get. Sometimes it's a fantastic surprise... and sometimes it's just a surprise.
There've been a couple challenging pianos on this tour - including an electric piano (please tell me this isn't an indication of the future of classical music!) and a piano with an incredibly heavy action and "dead" upper register (I nearly killed my arms on that one - spent the evening alternating soaking them in hot and cold water).
When traveling on a concert tour there are plenty of challenges that pop up: from changes in weather that you may not have anticipated when packing, to changes in the schedule. Flexibility and a positive attitude are "key" to making the most of the opportunity to meet people, experience another culture, and successfully share the essence of your musical program with the audience.
Have you ever practiced for 8 hours and wished that you could just keep going for a few more?
Looks like I've got your attention. Great! From April 4-25 I'll be touring Lithuania with my family's ensemble, The American Virtuosi. I'd love to share a few highlights from the the first part of our trip.
A week ago today, I left my home in New Hampshire and flew to Maryland to start rehearsals with my family. I landed at 2pm. An hour later, I was seated in front of a piano. We stayed in the practice studio 'til almost midnight; though we had each been working on our individual parts, there was a lot of work to do with putting together our ensemble and synchronizing our artistic visions. My face *almost* turned blue (see picture). My eyes did turn a bit red.
Sunday... more practicing. Monday morning, we hit the road. Agenda:
So, what did we do after we checked into the hotel and had a bite to eat? We gently asked if we could have access to the music school to practice, of course. I got the concert hall (below) and we each put in a couple hours.
Wednesday morning we met the Mayor of Siauliai (pictured in blue suit, below). We talked about music, education, our travels, teaching... and a bit of politics as well (though we tried to avoid the US Presidential race...).
After lunch: practicing and after lunch a masterclass for several talented young pianists.
On Thursday, we woke up to see a picture from yesterday's meeting in the paper. We practiced and rehearsed most of the day, and then performed our first tour concert. We shared the stage with the renowned Dagilelis Boychoir - and at the end of the concert we played a beautiful selection together: "Ave Maria" by Guilio Caccini.
Friday... rehearsals & practicing. Never enough!
In the afternoon we were special guests at a national boychoir festival in which they performed their instrumental talents (solo and ensemble). WOW! We enjoyed the recital, and then were invited on stage to close the festival with our selection "Music from Around the World." I guarantee it to be the fastest ticket around the world!
Today we almost played basketball instead of a concert. Our performance took place at the Siauliai arena, and our greenroom was box seats above the basketball court. The game started during the concert, so every time we came back to the room we caught a bit of it. Lithuania is known for having great basketball players and it was fun to watch them (believe it or not, this was my first time watching a live basketball game).
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The life of a touring artist sounds glamorous, doesn't it? Travel the world, play concerts, stay in fancy places and eat delicious meals... Yes, it can be very enjoyable, but there is a LOT more to it. Packing (one small suitcase for nearly a month?), practicing (hardly ever while on the road), performing the same program over and over and over again (but you can't sound bored!), laundry...
Here are some behind-the-scenes tips for life on the road.
In the summer of 2008, my family and I spent 3 months living as artists in residence at the Dilsberg Castle (Germany). We practiced, composed, and enjoyed the beautiful surroundings. We were so happy to come back here for a concert this weekend, stay in our old "home," and catch up with friends.
Cracow (Poland) has got to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. It's a town that dates back to the 7th century, with current buildings having their roots in the 10th century (just think about that for a moment!). We enjoyed performing, teaching, visiting, and eating (many delicious restaurants, bakeries, and cafes to choose from).
Learn more here:
St. Mary's Basilica
Elizabeth Borowsky is a pianist, teacher, and composer. She is a Nationally Certified Teacher of Music in Piano (Music Teachers National Association).