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100th anniversary of Silent Night Christmas carol.
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…to play the same music over and over!

Thanks to my best buddy Louise for the blog post idea!  She wonders how musicians manage to do this several times a day for weeks at a time.  Good question!

The easy solution would be to “phone it in.”  I’ve made a personal resolution never to do that.  Too risky (for missing cues, notes, etc.), not to mention boring.

How can we avoid zoning out?

A few ideas:

Always find a way to “reinvent” the music, as tired as that term may be.

Practice the program every day, whether you know it in your sleep or not.  Be engaged.

A musician who lived in my building in New York made a good living as a sub in Broadway pit orchestras.  He played 5 instruments, and practiced every one of them every day. That’s what it takes.

Practice the program out of order.  Switch it up. Keep your brain working.

Change something about your practice environment, such as the temperature, lighting, or chair height.  This also keeps you alert, as well as preparing you for day-to-day changes at the venue.  The pianist Ruth Slenczynska uses this approach.

Practice at different tempi. This provides the opportunity to hear everything differently.  Who knows?  You could change your interpretation partway through the season!

Vary the dynamics. You don’t have to play exactly the same way every time, in most cases.

Take breaks in different places (not always after the same piece).

In a church situation, you could harmonize hymns in a variety of ways, add a descant, improvise between verses, or even stop playing.

With anthems, the added instruments could change from time to time.

The choir and soloists could sing from different places in the room.

You could switch up the solos.

What was probably the most effective trick was suggested by a friend.  The Fantasticks, for which I played the harp part on a keyboard, had a run of 36 shows last Spring at the Majestic Theater in West Springfield, MA.  Imagining one person in the audience who had never seen the show made a big difference to me.  Then I had all the incentive I needed to be involved, to communicate the music like it was new every time. Thank you!  You know who you are… : )

I also enjoyed watching a veteran actor every night. He has been in theater for over 40 years!  His ability to “read” the audience in each show, changing his performance to match, fascinated me.  Thanks, J.T., for the inspiration!  I learned so much from you.

How do you manage to perform the same music throughout an entire season?  Please share your ideas in the comment section below!

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