I’ve been performing since I’m fifteen, and I’ve never learned how to do it. I didn’t even think there was something to learn about it. However, when you think back to how many people get nervous when they have to perform, from good anxiety to total panic that they have to calm down with medicines or even stronger stuff, you start to ask yourself whether there might be somehow something to learn about it. I can still remember moments of total panic during competitions and it didn’t feel good. Playing music shouldn’t lead to this amount of stress. At a lower level, I also experienced the frustration of practicing so hard for a lesson and then not being able to play the way I wanted when in presence of my teacher and the other students. So, is there something you can do about it?
Comfort zone & challenges
When I started to perform with the shakuhachi, it was a big challenge. Will I get a sound? As I am anxious and perfectionist, I was never happy about what I did, even though I like challenges. And the shakuhachi is such a beautiful one. At first, making a sound is magical. Learning to let go of myself while playing is an incredible feeling. Learning to trust the flute and accept whatever it gives me has led me to the path of meditation, to the place where I have no expectation and enjoy what I receive. Even though I have ups and downs and sometimes get frustrated, I eventually find a benefit in any “bad experience” to improve myself.
However, when you are hired for a concert, people do have expectations. You have to perform at your best. I suddenly started to feel pressure and get nervous again. When I play at home, I feel freedom. And I wanted to keep this feeling of freedom during the performances too.
One aspect of this freedom is to be able to perform in any circumstances, especially out of my confort zone. My regular visits to people with dementia is one of these experiences. It improved my concentration a lot. Playing some years ago for a lot of children in all kind of venues (especially those absolutely not meant for giving our show and yet we did it) taught me to be ready for the most unexpected things. And at a certain point, I also learned to say “no, I don’t go any further” because the quality was not guaranteed anymore or the music was not being respected.
So when I have the opportunity to play in a beautiful concert hall or church, I enjoy it even more! And this was the case the last few months. The challenge was purely musical. Nevertheless, I decided to prepare these concerts particularly well in order to enjoy them fully.
What does really matter when you perform?
I was taught at the conservatoire that to play without mistakes was the way to succeed. Until I failed an exam whereas I played without a single mistake. I didn’t understand what happened, I couldn’t. I can’t say my teacher helped me there and it took me some time to recover. When it happened again, it took me so much time to recover that I had to completely stop for months. I had tried to play the way I thought people expected me to play and this was a complete failure.
When I play shakuhachi for myself, I feel like I am inside the music. Hence, performing should be the same. So I worked on this feeling, with the help of an excellent online training. Keeping the concentration high, getting aware of my body tensions, of my mind self-talk, this was already all part of my shakuhachi meditation practice. I was already in the right direction, I just needed a few more steps to apply them fully during performances. The real eye-opener for me was the difference between practice mode and performance mode. Practicing is not performing, different qualities are involved. Stronger, opposite qualities are involved. When you perform, it is no longer the time to analyse, think back, criticise, keep record. It is time to be fully in the moment, in each sound, enjoying what is happening and doing your best, without beating yourself up for every little imperfection you are the only one to hear. That means that when you play a piece, you have to be able to choose your mental mode: practice (in order to improve the piece) or performance (turn off your mind and be in the music). That feels so good!
I don’t always play in tune, I just fix it quicker than anyone else. Jascha Heifetz.
My concerts were not perfect, but I truly enjoyed every moment of them. I felt free and happy.
For the second one, I could have chosen a piece I already performed many times and stay in my comfort zone, but I preferred to take the challenge of a Premiere. I am convinced I learned more from it than from any other piece I knew since a longer time. Anyway, it was for me a great honour to perform this new composition of Fukuda Teruhisa, which is about… concentration for a performance!
Suizen Meditation concert
Last weekend, I was invited to give a meditation concert in a zen centre. I did it a few times before but I was never entirely satisfied with the result. Last Sunday however, being fully aware of the power of performance mode, I could combine meditation and making music. Since the last months, my meditation practice has also improved a lot thanks to another excellent online training and I could enjoy – without the stress of the performance – being in the present moment with full concentration and awareness, deep breathing and stable sound. I chose my musical program so that I could associate intentions and virtues with each piece: Focus with Kyorei, Trust with Takiotoshi, Humility with Azuma-no-kyoku, Loving-kindness with Sōkaku Reibo, Compassion with Tamuke.
I truly enjoyed every single moment of this concert, I enjoyed that children were present, even a baby and the little sounds he made, I enjoyed the attention of the audience, I enjoyed the sunshine through the windows, and the silence inside the music.
To be continued…