By Tim Stacey
“To realize the value of a year, ask a student who failed a grade.”
Like most platitudes, this one has merit, but it favours generality over truth. For most students, their final grade is rarely as big a concern as other aspects of their life. Most would tell you that it really only becomes a concern in the last week, or last hours before their exam. This doesn’t teach the value of a year so much as it encourages you to cram.
However, a worthier source for motivation can be found right downtown. Nine students in the Marilyn I. Walker School Of Fine and Performing Arts (MIWSFPA) have been preparing since at least the fall for their upcoming solo recitals this month.
“You can’t cram for something like this,” said Grace Snippe, cellist. “It’s so long term, how you build your skills, and they have to be so deeply rooted in you.”
“I feel guilty for having any downtime,” said Andrea Nolan, soprano. “If I’m just sitting down, I’m either humming something or going over my words, or when I’m trying to fall asleep I’ll be singing in my head.”
Eight of this year’s nine recital students will be performing a 45-minute solo program, which is a considerable step up from the next most demanding performance they’ve done at university. Music majors perform once or twice a year for 3-5 minutes at the department’s Tuesday Music@Noon concerts, and slightly longer for their year-end jury examination, so to perform a program nearly ten times that length is no small feat.
The ninth recital student is Negin Rezaei Asl, a pianist who is following up her 45-minute recital from last year with a 75-minute program this month.
“I practice 7-8 hours a day. Sunday is just four hours,” said Rezaei, with a laugh. “My practice room is basically my first home, and my apartment is my second home.”
Rezaei had chosen her repertoire for this upcoming performance the day after her first recital, nearly a year ago. She’s so intent on practicing that when she tried to log some hours on New Year’s Day, she was disappointed to find that the school was closed.
“It sounds weird, right? It’s like an addiction. If I don’t practice, then there’s nothing else for me to do.”
The MIWSFPA only introduced a performance concentration to the Music Program in the last few years, and so a majority of these recitalists aren’t technically performance majors. Whereas other universities expect music students to choose between a practical or theoretical approach, the MIWSFPA provides a more flexible program that allows students with a variety of future careers to still get an idea of professional performance.
“It’s basically a professional performance that they’re getting practice experiencing,” said Dr. Karin Di Bella, Chair of the Music Department. “They have to audition, they have to be an A-level performer, and we have to know that they can handle the physical and psychological demands. Not everyone can do one of these recitals.”
While Rezaei’s intensive practice schedule is certainly on the high end among the recitalists, most of them still commit 2-4 hours a day to practice.
“I don’t necessarily have to sing to practice,” said Kurt Dunn, baritone. “I can listen to a piece, or read the text and get comfortable with the words, then actually try singing it.”
That said, even by conservative estimates, the recitalists will average around 600 hours of practice by the time they take the stage. That means each minute in performance is equivalent to approximately 800 minutes in preparation.
“It’s not necessarily about the duration,” said Nick Cooper, oboist. “Given the nature of my instrument, I’d love to be able to sit down and play for three hours, but my lips would fall off. You can get more done in a half hour than in an hour; it depends on your frame of mind going into it.”
“It’s kind of dependent on how I’m feeling,” said Eric Godfree, guitarist. “Sometimes, just practicing will make the anxiety go away, but I find that once I get on stage, [I] have to do it. I can lock in once I’m there.”
“I just try to enjoy the music part of it,” said Jesse Luciani, guitarist. “I try to tell the story of what’s happening in the music, and I find that calms me down.”
This kind of commitment isn’t easily maintained. If you’ve ever felt anxiety while cramming for an exam, you can imagine what it’s like to stretch that over an entire year.
“In November and December I started getting really freaked out,” said Brody Smith, guitarist. “I went into each practice session with a negative mindset, and so nothing really got accomplished. I had just felt this loss of control. Once I settled on the pieces to do, things started getting better. Having other people and friends in the program was a huge help.”
Working under this kind of pressure for a year is more than enough to lose sleep over. What’s more, at the end of all this, these recitalists don’t cross a finish line so much as the clock runs out on them.
“There’s always going to be room for improvement,” said Snippe. “Even at my recital, even if it’s the best I’ve ever played, it still could be better.”
With no clear goal and no real chance at perfection, it can be frustrating for a recitalist to figure out if they’re ready.
“[My goal is] for everything to feel really good so that I don’t even have to be nervous,” said Allison Scholtens, violinist. “Once you have it, you don’t have to think twice about it. Then you can focus on what really matters, like making it musical.”
When asked why they chose to do a recital, despite some of them having no interest in pursuing a Masters in performance, or a career as a performing musician, nearly every recitalist’s answer was a variation on the same theme: They’re doing it to see if they can.
“It’s not about the mark,” said Cooper. “It’s how well you play and how you can connect with people through that.”
For some, this will be their first performance of this kind, and for others, it may be their last. Admission is free. You’re invited see a year’s worth of sacrificed evenings and early mornings, cracked knuckles and calloused fingers, raw throats and sore muscles, all culminate in a single hour. Come see what a year is really worth.
March 12 Concordia Seminary, Brock University, Glenridge Campus
6:30 pm Grace Snippe, Cello
7:45 pm Allison Scholtens, Violin
March 16 Cairns Hall, FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre
7:30 pm Jesse Luciani, Guitar
March 19 Concordia Seminary, Brock University, Glenridge Campus
6:30 pm Brody Smith, Guitar
7:45 pm Nick Cooper, Oboe
Mar 21 Cairns Hall, FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre
7:30 pm Eric Godfree, Guitar
Mar 23 Cairns Hall, FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre
7:30 pm Negin Rezaei Asl, Piano
Mar 26 Concordia Seminary, Brock University, Glenridge Campus
6:30 pm Kurt Dunn, Vocal
7:45 pm Andrea Nolan, Vocal