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Performance: My Path to the Arts
Posted 01/27/2017 01:30PM

Shu performs BMV 1056 at the 2016 Arts Festival Concert

By Shu Ye '18

I played the last note, still immersed in the music. I heard people applaud and cheer, and I stood up and bowed to the audience. A sense of proudness and happiness fulfilled my heart—I had succeeded in my first performance with an orchestra. My efforts, my joy, and my sadness, at this moment, all seemed worth it.

* * *

I started playing the piano in China when I was five. I cannot remember how passionate I was, but I know it was my first hobby. As I grew up, playing the piano became a daily routine. Everyday, after I came back home from an eight-hour school day, I had to do a lot of tiring and tedious finger training. The music I played was also short and boring because my tutor selected the pieces for me. I wanted to try something more agreeable; however, he discouraged me, telling me that the music I chose would be too difficult for me. I respected him and acceded. I continued to follow his guidance, playing music that was “more suitable” for me.

At that time, I was already in middle school, and academically and socially I was under multiple pressures. Playing the piano, which originally was an occasion for me to take a rest, began to worsen my mood because I could not enjoy the music I played. I gradually lost my interest, and I spent less time practicing. I was so passive that I could not finish a piece of music completely. After a painful consideration, I decided to stop playing. Despite my countless hours of practice, I had only performed twice in those eight years of studying.

Ms. Gloria teaches me how to understand music—not just how to make technical improvements.

In 2015, I came to TASIS. Ms. Forrest, the High School Music Director, introduced me to Ms. Gloria, TASIS’s piano teacher. After learning that I had played piano before and was curious about TASIS’s music program, they both suggested that I try one lesson with Ms. Gloria. I did. And I was surprised by the totally different teaching methods.

I started playing the piano again.

Ms. Gloria respects my ideas, letting me choose the style of music I like. She teaches me how to understand music—not just how to make technical improvements. In class, we talk about how to interpret the composer’s emotions and how to translate them into our own expressions. She is so erudite that she tells me the historical background and anecdotes behind a piece of music. I learned that Mozart, as a prodigy of music and later on as a great musician, composed so many pieces of music that he could not even find time to annotate on each piece. Therefore, he left no hint for contemporary performers about how to express the music. I have to decide where to put a crescendo, a diminuendo, a legato, or a staccato—following my heart but at the same time respecting Mozart’s implied purpose. She wants me to find out which genre or which composer suits me the best, so she strongly encourages me to try different music and explore the beauty of it.

I enjoy this process, but we don’t do it for fun. Understanding a piece of music builds a link between the composer and me. The score is not composed by notes but stories: the composer’s happiness, struggle, nostalgia, and praise. I am responsible for showing the vivid images in the music. I am the carrier between the past and now.

I have become more interested and dedicated. I am willing to spend more time to construct a piece of music. Practice has helped fulfill my life at school. Normally I go to practice every day for at least 40 minutes. No matter how busy I am, I ensure four hours of practice every week. My resolution of making every piece perfect was so strong that one day Ms. Gloria asked me if I wanted to perform with an orchestra from the conservatory during the TASIS Arts Festival.

We spent a lot of time choosing the music. I listened carefully to music from the Baroque, Romantic, and Modern periods. I still remember when I heard Bach’s BMV 1056—I fell in love with it in the first second. The first four phrases are so sublime, and it gave me a feeling that I was traveling in the vast universe. I told Ms. Gloria that I made my decision: BMV 1056.

Backed by a professional orchestra, Shu performs BMV 1056 at the 2016 Arts Festival Concert.

Practice makes perfect. I was not perfect at the beginning. The music was pretty fast, so it required precise fingering. However, I had never paid any attention to fingering in my previous experience, so I struggled with it for several weeks. I spent a huge amount of time on practicing. I started by playing slowly with separate hands, and then played slowly with both hands before accelerating gradually.

Ms. Gloria then led me to the further development of the piece. She encouraged me to express my understanding of the piece, and she gave me some advice based on my answers. She let me pause wherever I thought a phrase ended. Even though mistakes were acceptable, it was very challenging since I was not good at music theory, and my understanding sometimes disobeyed the fundamental rules of composing. By doing this, we separated an entire story into a few chapters, and each chapter had its own topic. The strategy helped me build a solid structure of the music in my mind.

Ms. Gloria, TASIS Music Teacher
Ms. Gloria, my teacher

The most difficult part was memorizing the piece. Since I was going to perform, I had to memorize the music without making any mistakes in the performance. I had already played the piece hundreds of times, so I could play the music without looking at the score. I was able to do so because I already had developed the habit of pressing the right keys at the right time. However, when Ms. Gloria asked me to start playing from the middle of the piece with only one hand, I could not recollect the exact note.

I had to memorize the piece not mechanically but by heart. I had to go back to the period of playing with separate hands, which was very time consuming and dull. Sometimes I easily lost concentration while playing because of the tons of repetitions I made.

I knew the necessity of memorizing, so I was persistent and patient. Finally, I could start playing at whatever phrase I wanted, and this ensured my “safety” while performing. When I achieved all the standards for a soloist, I started learning how to cooperate with the orchestra. We rehearsed three times. I was very nervous at first because I was afraid of making mistakes in front of these professional musicians. Once I found that I made zero mistake in rehearsals, I became very confident.

I was ready.

I went to the Palestra half an hour before the performance. It was a chilly morning, and my hands were not warm. In order to be prepared, I decided to warm up by playing the music several times. When I started playing, I realized that I was so nervous that I became insecure. My brain went blank for a moment, and I could not recollect the entire score. I was flustered and almost cried.

Surprisingly, once I started playing, all feelings of nervousness magically disappeared, and I found solace in the music.

Ms. Gloria noticed my situation. She came to my side and encouraged me to trust myself after I had put so much effort into my preparation. She joked, “While you are playing, I am going to sit in the first row of the audience, holding and reading your score. If you stop at any point, I will run to you and show you the note. Do not worry.” We both laughed, and I felt more confident with her company. I calmed down and successfully played the music again.

The half an hour passed quickly. Ms. Forrest called my name. I went to the piano. I bowed to the audience. I sat down. I took a deep breath. I looked at the conductor. I nodded to him. I pressed down the key.

Surprisingly, once I started playing, all feelings of nervousness magically disappeared, and I found solace in the music. The large amount of time I spent practicing and memorizing gave me confidence. Meanwhile, the orchestra was resonating with me, and I realized I was not alone. Our collaboration was both a responsibility and a support for me. I immersed myself in the music and forgot about the external world. I played the entire piece fluently without making any mistakes.

I finished successfully. I sat there, hearing the applause. Yes, I made it.

TASIS Arts Festival

Performing is much different than practicing. I want to use music to tell the audience a dynamic story without words and images. The art of performance is a process of sharing my enthusiasm with the audience. A performance is a transmission of the power of music. The best award is hearing that the audience was influenced, moved, inspired, or encouraged.

The process of making a performance is akin to building a house. Practice is the foundation that has to be solid; performance is the design and collaboration that have to be beautiful. When I add them together, I succeed. Through performance, I have learned how to gain a deeper understanding of a piece of music and music in general. My appreciation for the arts has increased. I am proud to say that I am a lover of music. It is one of my biggest enjoyments. Even though I will not be a professional musician, I firmly believe that playing the piano will be a rewarding hobby for my entire life.

Media from the 2016 TASIS Spring Arts Festival


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