If there is one major piece of advice I took away from studying flute in Paris for two weeks this past summer, it is to never let go of the individuality in your playing. There is something to be said about a performer that can go onstage and tell a story through their music each time they perform. Once we reach a certain point in our musical careers, everybody becomes able to compete on a similar level with each other's technical and musical abilities. There is a saying that once you have performed a specific task for 10,000, you have mastered it. If you really break that statement down, that means that anybody that has practiced their instrument 3 hours a day for approximately 9 years can be considered a master. Needless to say, this field can get extremely competitive.
So, what do you do when you reach a point where everybody is technically a "master" of their instrument? For one, competitions get a lot harder to judge. Auditions get harder to judge. And judging all of the above often becomes subjective to the personal preference of the committee. How do we differentiate ourselves as players at that point?
I've listened to multiple success stories of musicians I look up to about their careers and the steps they've taken to make a name for themselves in this industry. When practicing your butt off every day becomes a given, what is the extra step that we as professionals-in-training need to take to become noticed professionally? One thing that really spoke to me during one of our career lectures at the Da Capo Alliance Paris Flute Class this past summer was that you need to actually live in order to be able to let yourself shine through in your playing. You need to allow yourself to experience real life emotions and you need to allow time to find yourself. I think that too often, we as musicians lock ourselves in practice rooms for too long without venturing out into the world and experiencing things because we have this crippling self-doubt that tells us "if we are not practicing, we are failing". To be able to effectively perform a piece that conveys many deep emotions, we must have felt these emotions personally. I'm not advising you to go out and get your heart broken in the name of music, but experiencing deep emotions through developing personal connections with others (especially in your adolescence and developmental stages) is crucial to us as performers. We cannot become anti-social beings when music itself is a social and communal art form.
Personally, I am most moved by a performer when they look like they are completely invested in the music. Whenever I watch somebody perform that conveys the emotions they want to portray both musically and physically, I can feel myself experiencing the same emotions they are from an audience's perspective. If the music is crying, I feel sad. If the music is laughing, I smile. Many people attend live performances solely for those reasons - to feel something.
This portrayal of emotion through musical performance is partially selfish for us as well. For me, music is very much an emotional outlet. If I am having a bad day, music is the first thing I turn to. If I am having a good day, music is also the first thing I turn to. I often feel that playing my flute helps me convey emotions that I cannot physically speak. It sounds very cliché, but it is very true. If we examine the relationship between the performer and the audience, both sides are there to bond not only over a common interest, but a common emotional and aural experience as well.
So how do we differentiate ourselves in an audition if everybody is playing the same piece and the 100 people competing can all play the Ibert Concerto flawlessly? I think that you should strive to invest yourself so emotionally in your performance that you let everybody listening know what you have to say. Not only should you aim to perform with confidence and perfection (I am still absolutely a work in progress with all of this), but you should strive to tell everybody in the audience who you are as a person through every performance you give. I truly believe that this is a HUGE factor of succeeding, no matter what your profession is. You want to win a competition? Play like a winner starting from the moment you walk onstage. One of my favorite examples of this concept is about Carol Wincenc, who essentially "wins" every performance and competition before she even plays her flute based on her confident walk onstage and stage presence. Not only is she an incredible player, but she has incredible confidence and wraps the audience around her finger from the moment she steps onstage. That is something I really admire about her.
Once you have taken all of the necessary steps towards striving for musical perfection in your studies, I believe that success will come if you truly believe in yourself and your abilities. Strive to prepare for each competition or audition as much as you can beforehand, and walk onstage like a winner.
Questions? Comments? I'd love to hear from you.