Every semester during college and grad school, I found myself playing so many juries. I learned a lot in the process.
One semester’s experience especially comes to mind. The music department was located in four places on campus, all a significant distance from each other. The juries were not organized by location, so I had a lot of travelling to do, most of it in a hurry.
Eventually, the last jury arrived. The singer and I were talking in the hallway. He wanted to change the tempo of his first aria drastically. Being rather nervous that day myself, I “bought it” and played the introduction much faster than we had rehearsed.
After he sang, his teacher said, “A bit of a zippy tempo, wasn’t it?” Well, yes, it was. But I’d had it. That was my 15th jury of the day, at least. I burst into tears. Another voice teacher followed me out into the hall to see if I was OK.
After the fact, I realized that the singer was nervous and not able to identify a reasonable tempo just then.
You can almost predict what may happen if “your” student is nervous.
How to tell if your soloist is nervous
Take a minute or two to observe your soloist. You can get a lot of information even without asking how s/he is doing!
- talking considerably faster or louder than usual
- fiddling with the music, instrument, clothing, makeup, etc. repeatedly
- pacing the floor, tapping a foot
- asking you to make several changes just before the actual jury (i.e. outside the door)
- insisting that the piece has to be much faster or slower
- giving you a list of excuses (voice isn’t working, bad reed, didn’t get much sleep, forgot…, etc.)
How to handle your soloist’s angst
- Realize that this has nothing to do with you
- Don’t get into a discussion about specifics
- Stay calm, be reassuring, and smile
And then ignore everything your soloist said!
You are not going to make last-minute changes that you have never rehearsed. Your soloist, by verbalizing a list, is telling you that s/he is nervous. That’s it! You don’t need to tell them you’re not going to follow their suggestions… their perception is all about nerves, and what they suggested will be soon forgotten.
As accompanists, our responsibility in the case is to support the soloist, not to change everything on a whim.
What happens 99.9% of the time with less experienced soloists
Most of the time when someone without a lot of performing experience gets nervous, s/he will perform the music the way they first learned it. Nothing off the wall here, it’s almost predictable.
The same thing happens in practicing ~ the last thing you’ve learned is the least secure.
So it helps more than you may realize to remember that first rehearsal. You can save yourself a lot of guess work. If things start to sound a little shaky during someone’s jury, you will have a good idea what to expect and where.