Moment of Poise
In a previous article I wrote about smiling and how just doing some simple things can make you appear to be a experienced and confident performer. The article was titled Faking It. Today we add another way to fake it: the moment of poise.
Most performers have a moment before they begin playing, after walking out, where the entire room is settling it. The applause is done, and the performer or performers are preparing to begin. There’s that moment of silence, time stops, then the music starts. That’s the moment of poise.
Calling it a moment of poise is misleading. The performer is probably anything but calm. But for the audience it’s this moment that really signals the start of a piece.
Anyone can incorporate a brief moment of poise before performing. The key is to try and settle your mind — actually, the key is to distract yourself, and think about the music and not the audience. There’s a few strategies for this. One is to just imagine the first few bars of the piece. Feel your hands moving and hear the sounds for the first few measures before beginning to actually play. Another strategy is to just notice the room or what you feel (a concept borrowed from Madeline Bruser). Notice things like the way the room sounds or feels or how your body feels seated, etc. There’s also the option of focusing on breathing for a few seconds.
Lots of options, but incorporating brief moment of poise before the first notes can really make your performance more polished and professional.
That moment of poise – an excellent description, by the way – is something I’ve always respected when seeing other performers play. Personally, that’s the moment when I most easily fall apart. It’s that point when it’s hard NOT to remind yourself that you’ve got only one shot to open the performance solidly. And, if you execute the poise moment well, you’ll can fully capture the audience’s attention. That’s a terrifying thought for anyone who tends to get nervous prior to performing. “What if I botch the opening chord? Why does my right hand suddenly feel like jello? Why are they all _looking_ at me like that?” You’re right: the key is to guide your thoughts toward the more productive things that you suggest. In my case, I try to focus on the feel of the instrument in my hands, the familiarity of my body posture. This helps me to clear my head a little and reminds me that yes, I do know how to play this music; I know this instrument.
I’m reminded of a performance by Charlie Byrd in Sydney in the early ’70’s. To showcase his classical guitar chops he played Spanish Dance No. 5 by Granados. The sliding bass intro went fine but the first bar of the melody was nothing but phut..phut..phut. His moment of poise never wavered.