We are really proud that Jean and Randle gave such strong performances at their recitals last week. In this interview, they candidly share their experience, how they successfully conquered their nerves, and how prepared for such a good show. Read the transcript, or watch the video below.
Jason: I’m here with Jean, with Randle. Welcome Randle. Welcome Jean. We’re having you here today because you both did a really awesome job on the recitals last week. The performances were strong, they were emotive, I felt something. Let’s start with you Jean. How did you feel performing?
Jean: It was good. I got a little nervous and made a mistake and had to restart. It was great. My hands were shaking. It my first recital ever. So, it felt great. I felt accomplished.
Jason: I have a friend who talked about the first time he conducted. He said he walked up to the podium, and then realized that he was deaf, blind and mute. All at the same time. Was it a similar feeling, was it that bad or was it….
Jean: Well, I’m used to it, when I do public speaking that my hands are shaking which is something that you can hide easily. But when you are playing the piano and your hands are shaking its a little harder to hide. But I worked through it, its good. But when you practice a lot then you just can do it. With practice, absolutely, it works.
Jason: What about you Randle, how did you feel?
Randle: Good. I’ve been struggling with nerves the last couple of years, so I was definitely nervous, but it was manageable. I get shaky hands too, but they weren’t flying off the strings or anything like that. And I felt good at the end, like, happy that I did well.
Jason: Awesome. Agreed. I think you did well. And the shaking hands, I’ve had some problems with this myself in the past. And preparation is one of the keys to getting rid of that sort of thing. There is also some other stuff you can do to help. When it comes to public speaking, have you heard of something (a technique) called respiratory sinus arrhythmia?
Jean: No, I haven’t.
Jason: What would you do when you do public speaking?
Jean: I mean, really, you just have to repeat to yourself so that you’re ready, so that you are prepared. Preparation is the, you know……I think you’re always nervous and the first few seconds of the speech and then you’re in it. You are doing well and so you are getting confidence and it’s the same thing with piano. I think one thing that helped me was that Nicole (my teacher) told me to listen to the piece in my head before playing it, which also gives you time to be in front of the crowd before starting to play the first few notes. And gaining that confidence. The first few notes or difficult always. And then you gain confidence over time.
Jason: You are shaking your head, you agree?
Randle: Yeah. In the moment I found in public speaking, too, if I just envisioned myself doing well rather than what are all the things that could go wrong. Or what if I get really nervous and throw up, wouldn’t that be embarassing?
Jason: Yeah, I think it would be, but it didn’t happen.
Randle: But instead if you just say “okay, in 30 seconds I’m going to be partway through the song and its going to be going really well” and then you only need to get yourself that far to be able to finish. Sometimes mid-song – I was talking to Olivia [my teacher] about this – It’s going well and then I start to panic…I thought “Oh! you’re performing and you should be really nervous about this”. Then I just started imagining the end of the song.
Randle: Thinking “Ok, in a few minutes there is going to be clapping, and you are going to be really happy you did this”. You know?
Jason: I’ve had issues with this myself. I’ve been performing and it’s gone really well, and then you think ‘wow, this is going really well’, and then you lose your concentration because you are thinking about how its going rather than the music. So I think that thinking about the ending is a really good strategy.
Jean: I think, yeah, to be able to have that sort of parallel thought process in your performance, you need really good practices so that your hands or voice are doing the work for you.
Jason: So what you just mentioned is we talk call metacognition, which means thinking about your thinking. The number one predictor of success in any skilled activity is metacognition. So think about your thinking. It also means an awareness of what to think about. So if you know where to put your focus the whole time, that is super, super important.
Jean: Yeah, yeah. That’s actually a question – perhaps this is a school wide question. Are you aware of your own thinking when you practice? And I always answer ‘sometimes’ because yes, of course, practice is a way to get better. But for me it’s also sort of therapeutic and meditative. Sometimes it’s nice to – just kind of like swimming laps – to not think about anything and just let your hands go through the muscle memory. I enjoy both kinds of metacognition.
Jason: I think it’s good. Music has been a big part of my life, my recovery from trauma and such. But yeah, you need that technical skill for things to work in your hands without your thinking about them. And that where that thoughtful practice really makes the difference.
Jason: Tell us about a piece of you decided to play.
Randle: Yeah, so the piece I did was New York by St. Vincent, it’s like a radio pop song and it’s a lot more amped up – synthesizers and all that, and I saw her on NPR, Tiny Desk, do an acoustic version and – because I already liked the album, but it seemed like out of my realm – and then seeing her do it with just the guitar I was like, okay, cool. Plus it’s kind of about New York and I moved here last year on so it was on my mind.
Jason: And you?
Jean: So I picked Venetian Boat Song by Mendelssohn. I’m really new on piano, so I didn’t have that many choices, not that much of a conscious choice, but I really liked the piece because I always thought of Mendelssohn as a great classic composer, but the piece is very modern. It was very simple but also very expressive. It’s kind of mellow and I like that on piano. Especially at my skill level where I can’t necessarily do a very fast piece very well. Um, yeah, I thought it was just nice and romantic.
Jason: I really like that you are in different worlds. You are very classic, and yours was very popular.
Randle: Yeah, I debated wearing sunglasses for the performance.
Jason: Why didn’t you wear the sunglasses?
Randle: It was just another variable, and I didn’t want to deal with it. But St. Vincent always wears sunglasses when she is performing, even inside.
Jason: I didn’t know that.
Jean: I wonder what Mendelssohn wore. Perhaps ruffles?
Jason: It think he was too late for ruffles. He came from a family of bankers, I think, so I imagine a suit or something like that. What advice would you give to a future performers? Someone who is doing their first recital or performance?
Jean: Pick a piece that you love because they’re gonna have to practice over and over and over until you’re almost sick of it, but if you’re not sick of it then you are really going to have to love it. Yeah, I would say just really pick something that you love and you can do 100 times and not be sick of it. I think there was another Nocturne I was practicing and I almost over practiced it so it didn’t sound as nice, but this piece I practice 100 times, so it worked.
Randle: I think that it’s really helpful when thinking about performance to think about not just technically mastering it because I feel like I didn’t obsess thinking “Oh, I messed up on this one run through, what if I mess up in real life?” Even if I practiced it so much I might mess up. But it’s a lot more fun for everyone if I think about actually performing. Like how can I entertain or make everyone have fun or have a good experience. And you don’t have to be technically up here to be able to do that. You just kind of have to be having fun yourself.
Jason: I’m glad you said that, because I often get the question from students “When do I get good”? But what I really think they mean is “When do I get to play hard music?”. You can be good at the very begininning. You can play something that sounds really well, even with just two notes. It’s about doing things well, and then you can just do harder stuff as you progress. Any other advice you’d like to give to anyone?
Randle: I’ve also been doing something that works for me were when I’m practicing like prepping for a performance. I’ll practice and practice in this way where it’s like broken up into tiny little pieces and if I’m stumbling on something, stop and do that, figure out why and then fix it and do it over and over again correctly in little pieces. And then once you can play the piece or the song all the way through, then that’s just like phase one. The next phase is like, now I’m going to practice it through accurately, so many times that I can’t possibly be nervous because it’s just muscle memory. That’s my phase two, like I get to where I can technically do this maybe the three weeks before and then I just start practicing so much my neighbors are probably going crazy hearing it.
Jason: You were sounding good. I can’t imagine that your neighbors would be sick of something that was sounding well. Awesome. You are both awesome. Thank you so much.
Jean: Thank you.
Randle: Thank you.