“You must start well, and you must end well. What is in the middle is not so important because no one is listening then.”
–Maurice Chevalier, singer & actor (The Musician’s Way, p. 180)
I chuckle every time I read Chevalier’s words, but they aren’t intended solely in jest.
The start and finish of performances truly are vital moments in which music blossoms into and then fades out of existence.
The Magic and Challenge of Beginnings
At the outset of a performance, we start from a primordial silence and then lead our listeners into a dreamscape.
It’s a magical moment, but it can also be tricky to pull off because we have to capture the mood, style, and tempo regardless of how we feel or what sort of performance situation we’re dealing with.
Every one of us, therefore, needs a dependable routine for launching initial phrases. Here’s the most powerful one I know, which I describe in detail on pages 180-182 of The Musician’s Way.
When we center, we bring ourselves into focus, letting useless thoughts and tensions drop away.
We breathe deeply into the abdomen, lengthen the spine, and go to a place of inner silence.
From that quiet center, we mentally connect with the music we’re about to perform.
We sense the sound and sensations of the opening phrase, we soak up the mood and tempo, and we take on the character of the music.
With the pulse coursing through us, we instrumentalists bring our hands or instruments into playing position; coperformers make eye contact.
Next, we transform that internal pulse into an expressive count (“2-3-4…”), cue the beginning, and fill the air with music.
As we begin to play or sing, we not only immerse ourselves in the music but also heighten our awareness, especially in high-stakes situations or if we’re buzzing with adrenaline.
We both emote and control, ensuring that we and our listeners enjoy a smooth launch.
* * *
We veterans will center, connect, count, and begin in 10-15 seconds. Students, though, often do well to take more time to breathe away any jitters and establish the mood and tempo.
Most of all, for students to instill the habits needed to start pieces securely in public, they should consistently use launching routines in practice.
See Chapter 9 of The Musician’s Way for in-depth guidelines for starting and ending pieces in performance, harnessing on-stage energy, and much more.
© 2012 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © Remy Musser, licensed from Shutterstock.com