Friday, February 1, 2008

Help! I have to play in a dead hall.

Dear Listers,
I lost a competition last year even though I was fully prepared, because I found myself in a competition room (hotel function room) with no echo at all, that I couldn't hear myself at all, I got panic and then made several mistakes+cracks+intonation errors.
This year, I will be facing the same situation again soon in a wind concerto competition.  The hall has a big curtain behind and then all the hall is surrounded with thick carpets, I believe this hall is for theater plays not for musical performances.
Please help a fellow flute competitor.  What should I do?  I am so scared right now because I know I will not hear myself at all.  I'll be playing like deaf.
Advice needed urgent.  Many thanks to you.
Johann, age 13
I understand how frustrating it can be to play under such circumstances. I think if you know in advance the hall will be dead it can be helpful to practice in similar conditions, but often we don't know in advance what the hall or room will be like, and furthermore, many times even when playing in a resonant hall, under performance conditions, many players will FEEL like their sound is not responding or carrying (frequently due to dry mouth). So WHAT CAN WE DO?
First, remember that projection is less a function of what happens to the sound after you play than a function of how the sound resonates inside your body, and while the room may have changed, your body hasn't! When you are in a dead hall, instead of stressing out about the lack of reverb in the room, which you can't change anyway, increase your awareness and enjoyment of how the sound resonates in your sinuses, neck, chest, and feet!  If you can create the resonance inside, you can TRUST that it will carry through to the listener even if the conditions aren't ideal. And if you do have some cracks, remember it is not the end of the world (and it happens to all of us!), but is rather a signal that you need to force less and resonate more. 
I have also come to realize that the best method for me to adjust to conditions such as feeling the room is dead or having dry mouth, is a psychological one. Practicing in an accoustically dead hall may help you become more comfortable with the IDEA of playing in a dead room, and therefore reduce your anxiety on the performance day. On the other hand, it could make you feel grumpy during practice that you don't like how you sound! If it is having a negative effect, I wouldn't do it. Go back to practicing in a resonant but not echoing room. 
What can you do when you are actually at your competition or concert and you feel the hall is dry? TRUST YOURSELF.
It sounds overly simple but it is actually very hard to do!
TRUST that your sound is speaking even if you don't feel/hear it the way you are used to. 
TRUST your playing, don't fight it. 
When we fight it, we start changing the way we play, over adjusting embouchure, forcing the air, blowing harder instead of resonating more, and thus cracks and errors occur. Mentally go to that favorite practice room and place yourself there. Play the way you played on your very best practice day. Hear yourself the way you heard yourself that day. 
Chances are you sound a lot better to others than you do to yourself, after all, we are always our own worst critics. Don't get in the way of letting others enjoy your playing!
I hope this helps. 
Dear Listers,
Thanks to many listers' and Professor Nina Perlove's advice one and a half 
months ago on the Dead Room situation, I have completed my competitions 
and have overcome the Dead Room fears.  I came 12th (of 74) in the local 
wind concerto open, and came 1st in intermediately flute solo 
competition.  Just like to thank the wonderful listers.
age 13 

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