14 May

8 Things I Know about Reading in Public…

Posted in Public Reading, Writing

…I learned playing the violin.

The violin and I have a love-hate relationship.  I started playing at age 4, and have continued on and off for over 25 years.  Some of the time this was by choice, other times… not so much.  After all, how much choice do you really have when you’re 4?  It scares me a little to think that, with the exception of maybe my parents and siblings, I’ve had a longer relationship with this instrument than I have with most humans.

The “hate” part of the love-hate relationship is what comes to mind first.  I hate that from the minute I started school until today, everyone thinks of me as “the violin kid.”  I mean, sure, the violin was an important part of my formative years, but it’s not like I was born with the thing strapped to my arm.  Another thing is that I can’t hear a car horn or an elevator “ping” without thinking: d minor 7th chord, or seeing the note in my head.  Most people listen to music to “check out” and relax but I listen to music and my fingers start playing air-violin.  Oh, and the next person to make a violin-hickey joke is seriously going to get smacked.

But for someone like me, playing a musical instrument was probably the best thing that ever happened (even if I hate having to admit it).  I will admit that I’m really shy and playing violin taught me how to get up in front of a crowd.  Today, in honor of my Thesis reading (which is tonight) I’d like to share the…

Octave of Things I Learned About Public Reading from Playing Violin

  1. Practice.  There’s this old violin joke…

    Q: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
    A: Practice, practice, practice.

    My violin teacher used to say: “You practice 120% so that if you mess up 30% at the concert, you still get it 90% right.”  I’ve learned that the best way to prepare for reading in public is to read the piece over and over to anyone who will listen.  Read it so many times you practically have the thing memorized.

  2. Pick a piece that shines.  If the goal is to wow the audience, selecting the right repertoire is key.  In particular, try to pick a piece that shows your work in its best light.  It always drove me crazy that I’d play a difficult baroque solo sonata and the audience would snooze but if I chose a short, easy, flashy piece I’d get a standing ovation.  It’s ridiculous, I know, but if all you get is one chance to stun an audience, sometimes short/easy/flashy is the way to go.
  3. Remember: the audience is on your side.  Unless you’re defending your thesis in front of a panel of professors or you’re a lawyer giving your closing statements to a jury, chances are are the audience is not there to judge you.  They’re rooting for you.
  4. Don’t worry about mechanics.  The fastest way for me to mess up a violin performance is to think about my bow hand, or my posture, or my feet.  The minute I become hyper-aware of some mechanical detail of playing all bets are off and I start making mistakes left and right.  The same is true for reading.  If you start to think about the actual words or grammar, that’s when fumbles can happen.  Which brings me to #5.
  5. Hear the story in your head.  Whenever I feel myself focusing too much on the mechanics of what I’m playing, I force myself to hear the music in my head.  Same is true for writing.  When I read, I try to get caught up in telling a good story, rather than the minutia of my writing.
  6. If you make a mistake, just move on.  Don’t stop or go back.  Pretend it’s part of the piece.  After all, who’s going to know that it’s not?  Especially if you’re reading something that’s not yet published.
  7. Don’t make faces.  This is a corollary to #6.  I’m queen of face-making when I play.  If I’m playing something difficult, I snarl at the fingerboard.  When I make mistakes, I mouth swear words.  I know this because my parents have oh-so-graciously captured all these moments on tape.  My point is, if you act like you’ve made a mistake, everyone’s going to notice that something’s up.  If you just keep reading, no one will ever know.
  8. Smile and have fun.  Even if you think this experience is about as enjoyable as getting a root canal, smile at the audience.  If you pretend you’re having fun, chances are, you’ll find yourself enjoying the moment and the audience will respond.


Comments on this post

  1. Caroline Starr Rose says:

    This is lovely. It applies to writing…and life!

    1. blogger says:

      Great post Gabi!
      As a director and actor though I am going to slightly disagree with number one. Yes, you need to practice, be prepared, know the piece inside and out, but you can't let the practice dictate the performance otherwise it seems over-rehearsed. In the moment of the performance you have to let go of all that preparation and let the truth of that specific moment guide you; you have to be present. Otherwise the life of the piece gets practiced away.

      1. gabi says:

        That's a great point about over-rehearsing. I think the trick is to find a balance between practicing enough that the piece becomes part of you but not practicing so much that the life gets squelched out of it.

        This totally happens with me when I'm playing. I can't tell you how many times I've had that moment of panic during a piece because I can't remember what comes next but my fingers keep playing because they know, even if my brain doesn't.

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