by Mark Grundhoefer, instructor at Metro Music Makers
With recitals in the rear view, I’m getting prepared for a conversation I have with my students every year, and it’s always the same. The first lesson after the recital starts like this:
Me: “Great job at the recital! How do you think it went?”
Student: “It was ok…”
Me: “Did someone take video?”
Me: “Have you watched it?”
Student: “Absolutely not!”
That answer never surprises me. It’s tough sometimes to watch a video of yourself, much less a video of you performing. Whether you’re giving a speech, acting in a theatrical production, or playing music for an audience, we tend to cringe when we see ourselves. It’s a natural response. But I’m here to tell you why you should not only watch video of every performance, but also study each of them.
Everyone makes mistakes. Even your teachers. I’ve never walked off the stage and thought “Wow, I just played the perfect show!” The challenge is to learn from those mistakes. When I was younger, my parents would film (with the largest video camera known to man) every show I was in until I went to college. One thing I learned from watching those videos was that when I made a mistake, I would wince and scowl like I was mad. I was literally telegraphing to the audience that I was flustered. It took a lot of practice and performances to correct that habit. Do you do the same thing? How are you reacting when you make a mistake?
When you watch yourself perform, do you look nervous? Probably. There’s nothing wrong with being nervous. In fact, it’s your body’s fight or flight reaction, and it actually helps prepare you for adversity. The challenge is to look poised even when you feel nervous. Watch yourself on video and study your face and your body language, then check out a video of your favorite musician. What’s the difference? The next time you perform, exude confidence, even if it’s an act. Make eye contact with members of the audience. Hold your head up. Command the stage!
I want to challenge you to embrace your imperfections. I make mistakes all the time. And what do I do with those? I post them on the Internet! A simple Google search will find a plethora of videos of me performing over the years. Some are in front of huge crowds; some are in my bedroom. But they all have one thing in common: mistakes. But you won’t hear any, just like you don’t know when your favorite artist makes a mistake or is nervous while on stage. I think we are able to hide our imperfections when we aren’t afraid of them. They don’t define you or your art.
Finally, while I encourage you to study your performance, I also want to remind you that no one else will. The audience will remember YOU from the show, in the moment. When the recital is over, your friends, family, teachers and strangers may come up to you and congratulate you on a job well done. They mean it. They aren’t sitting there critiquing your performance. They are there to enjoy the beautiful music you are creating.