• Brian James Gage

My First Piano Recital or: Sorry, Chopin, We Still Friends?

Updated: Aug 21, 2018

I'm not very happy with this performance, but I have to start somewhere. This attempt deserves a C+ at best. Maybe almost a B- if we factor in my short 11 months of formal study. But now I'm just making excuses. Not my style.



I never get nervous. Never. Put me in front of a room regardless of the size of audience - it simply doesn't phase me. Make them rabid and despise me and somehow that fuels me even further to just get on with it.

But what I found out today is that's true – unless that room is full of about 20 strangers I'll never see again, and I'm performing a relatively advanced Chopin piece from memory. Then, well, you have this video, and holy smokes was I nervous. You can even notice my right leg shaking a bit as I play. Get a grip on yourself!

To be fair to myself, I only flubbed up a few parts and on my major flub at around 5:40 – give it up for improvisation! I simply lost track of where I was and just fudged it until I remembered. We'll just call it “my interpretation”.

Despite the mess ups, I feel pretty good about this as my first recital as I normally freeze up even when I'm playing in the practice studio. So to get this performance out of me in a room full of people and having never done this before I think was acceptable. I feel this was an important and necessary step in my music education and development as a classical musician.

I can't claim to study classical piano performance unless I actually perform.

I do find it bit odd I messed up as frequently as I did as I can crank this out on my N2 at home no issue. Back when I used to play guitar in bands, I never was nervous on stage, and was absolutely on point with our songs – never missed a beat. Mind you my band sucked and our songs were terrible, but that is another story... My lack of nerves back then were probably due to being drunk out of my mind dressed like an erotic cowboy. But some how I feel that behavior wouldn't cut it at a music conservatory piano recital. And those days are behind me anyway. I prefer to keep low key these days...


I can best describe this as a “jury duty” experience - that's kind of how it felt. Just sitting around waiting for your number to be called and the nerves building up. At one point, I'd convinced myself I had forgotten the entire piece, so I slipped out of the recital room and into one of the practice studios to double check my mental practice.

When I returned, I'd I sworn I'd forgotten the entire piece.

I was encouraged to take the sheet music with me. Which I did but didn't open it. I don't learn that way. Had it gone totally off the rails – having the sheet music in front of me would be no use as it's just not how I learn. I'm a memorizer. I can now read music proficiently enough to assist in my memorization, but sight reading? Let's see where I am in 10 years on that. I find it immensely challenging.

Then it was my turn, so I took a big breath and just rolled with it. The first thing I noticed was – I didn't like that piano one bit. It's action was too loose and the tone was very “grandma's house” - as in the kind of tone you'd expect from your grandparent's old piano. Sort of unweildly. So that was challenging for me. Specifically during the middle section of this piece which is supposed to be a whisper. I was aware I was playing to too loudly, but simply couldn't wrangle a softer sound out of this particular piano.

I had one momentary lapse where I paused and forgot the music. I chalked this up to nerves which is another aspect I found interesting as I felt myself becoming more nervous as the piece went on. And then my major flub was essentially just me spacing out. Again likely due to nerves.

Looking back over it all. I'm very glad I did this and am pleased with the learning experience. I'm not very pleased with my performance as after listening to the recording, I realize I have a very long way to go on this piece before I would again consider it presentable. But I figure there's no way to ever get good at performing in front of people unless you start. So now that seal has been broken and I can evaluate the experience and figure out how I can do better the next time.

One key thing I will do is try and perform the piece on the piano I will be playing on. A strange piano in addition to beginner's nerves. Well, I'm surprised that I played it as mistake-free as I did.


Secondly, the importance of just continuing on once a mistake is made. This is likely the most challenging aspect as psychologically you go into a mini-panic when you make a flub and I found unless I can control it – a mistake in the next section is sure to follow. And it sure did. It was minor, but I was still sweating the last mix up so it affected the next phrase. So it's best to just let mistakes roll off the fingers and not dwell on it or – off the rails she goes!


I think the third most important take away from this is preparation. I realize now I was under-prepared. I started learning this piece in September 2017 and had it memorized by October...Since then I have been treating it as a secondary piece - just something I'd toy with before bed.


I was informed of the recital in Feb, so I had plenty of time to prepare. But since I'm working on so many other things, I still treated it as a secondary piece figuring I had it memorized so I didn't need much more preparation. That was a mistake. I can especially hear this now in the recording - my timing is too rushed and even choppy in parts....


I was still tweaking this piece even up to last week where I switched some of my fingering to the URTEXT suggestions, and I can tell that had an effect on my performance. Next time - the eight weeks leading to a recital, the piece I'm performing must be my main focus...I think had I done that this time around, my performance would have been much stronger. I simply didn't workshop it enough in my lessons.


And finally, I guess my fourth take away is to dress nicer. It was supposed to be casual, so I just popped in with jeans and a T-shirt, but it was cold so I relied on my trusted hoodie. Should have popped on my hood to give a nice grim reaper effect with the Funeral March. I've always been a Liberace fan, so next time I'm going full on fur coat & pinky rings. This cat knew exactly what he was doing...


Either way, I did it. Enrolled in music school less than a year ago and performed my first recital 11 months later. If I were the type so basic as to have a bucket list - we'd be scratching that one off.

Despite all this, I am still very much looking forward to my next recital. We'll consider it my comeback performance!


Sorry, Chopin. I'll get you next time, hommie!

Humbly yours,

-bg.

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