Happy Easter from the Great Kat

Great Kat Violin

The Great Kat is perhaps the most ostentatious virtuoso in recent music history—and yes, that’s saying a lot. The self-proclaimed reincarnation of Beethoven, she’s fleet-fingered on both violin and guitar, and sports a glam-rock look.

Her recent interview with Sheila Regan included such remarks as “What I LOVE about shredding Beethoven, Vivaldi and Paganini is that their music is VIRTUOSIC and COMPLEX, with layers of counterpoint, melodies and harmonies ALL CONSTANTLY RUNNING, MOVING and stimulating your brain!!!!!”

The Great Kat (“your hot shred bunny”) recently sat for some seasonal photos, which she’s shared with the world. Happy Easter!

Great Kat Easter 1

Musicians preparing for performing with the help of concert hall simulators

Evren Ozel, Minnesota Varsity Showcase Performer (Courtney Perry/MPR)
Evren Ozel, Minnesota Varsity Showcase Performer (Courtney Perry/MPR)

In one of our recent Class Notes Videos, we focused on helping young concertgoers learn about audience behavior at a classical performance — what is appropriate, and what is not. Well thanks to technology developed by London’s Royal College of Music (in collaboration with a Swiss conservatory), musicians can prepare for audience behavior without needing to be in front of an audience.

In a recent Guardian article, Dalya Alberge reported on a performance simulator which is being used by musicians to prepare for all the potential distractions that can occur in a concert hall: from coughs and sneezes, to cell phones, to boos and cheers.

A small room at the Royal College was transformed into a virtual concert hall complete with spotlights and curtains to create an ultra-realistic environment. Young violinist Miriam Bergset recently tried out the simulator, performing in front of a large screen which contained a screen shot of the ‘auditorium’, as research associate Mats Küssner manipulated the ‘audience’. Bergset said:

“It felt completely different from playing in a rehearsal room. With the concert audience – even though it’s virtual – it feels as if you’re giving more back There is this exchange with an audience … It adds inspiration to get into the performance mode.”

Second Graders’ Tips for Managing Performance Anxiety

Young singer Connie Talbot (Wikimedia Commons)
Young singer Connie Talbot (Wikimedia Commons)

My primary-level students have started preparing for their spring concert in May, and part of that preparation includes discussing performance anxiety. Thanks to a supportive community, our concerts have very large audiences, which can increase the pressure on young performers. I recently asked my second graders, who have now participated in several school concerts, what advice they would offer to the kindergartners and first graders about dealing with stage fright. Their tips included preventative measures, fundamentals of stress management, and insightful techniques for managing anxiety during a performance. Their good advice could work for any age or level of experience.

“Practice your songs.”
Knowing your music inside and out is the best preventative measure for managing performance anxiety. But don’t just practice your music, practice performing. The more experience you can get, the better, whether you play for an audience at an open dress rehearsal, for your dog at home, or even in your mind.

This simple advice can have a profound effect. Extra muscular tension that accompanies stress causes shallow breathing. Inefficient chest breathing makes singing or playing a wind instrument difficult, decreases the ability to think clearly, and activates the parasympathetic nervous system response (fight-or-flight). A variety of methods, including Alexander Technique and yoga, teach diaphragmatic breathing and increase awareness of its effects. Focusing on breath control helps performers physically, cognitively, and musically.

“Look for your family.”
Coming on stage and looking out at a sea of faces can be very scary. One second grader said that she looks for her family and focuses on them during a performance. Making your focal point the people who love and support you unconditionally can lessen the feeling of scrutiny. People don’t come to concerts, especially student performances, looking for failure. Know that the audience is there for a love of the performers and/or the repertoire, not to judge mistakes.

“Think about your singing voice.”
It’s important to avoid being mesmerized by the audience when you’re performing. Remember why you’re there in front of them. Focus on the music and your sound. That’s what the audience is listening to, too!

“Act calm.”
Fake it ‘til you make it! Even if you’re not feeling calm, pretending that you are can work from the outside in. Social psychologist Ann Cuddy explained in her 2012 TED Talk that “our thoughts and our feelings and our physiology” are all influenced by our own nonverbal expressions, such as body language. Using confident body language increases testosterone (a dominance hormone) and decreases cortisol (a stress hormone), resulting in feelings of boldness and comfort.

“Move on if you make a mistake.”
Live music is a fleeting art form, existing in the moment. This can be a challenge with so many different factors affecting that moment, but it can also be an advantage. Mistakes are over as soon as they’ve happened, and good performers have the ability to move on from them. Focus on making each moment of music what you want it to be rather than dwelling on or judging what you have already played or sung.

“If you feel sick, you can sit down on the risers or just leave.”
The student who offered this piece of advice didn’t think it would quite fit on our list, but I disagree. Preparing for any situation that could arise, no matter how unlikely, will help any performer feel more prepared and comfortable. Locate the nearest exit, bathroom, garbage can, telephone, teacher, stage manager, or whatever else you could possibly need, and you will have a little less to worry about during the performance.

“Try your best. Everything will be okay.”
There is no “perfect” in music performance. If you put unrealistic expectations on yourself, you are bound to feel anxiety. Instead, visualize the bigger picture. Think of the beauty and purpose of the music you’re performing. Aiming to communicate these larger ideas through your music is more productive, both in lowering stress and improving a performance, than focusing on technical details. Try your best to stay true to the purpose of your music and performance, and have faith that everything will be, at the very least, okay.

“Be brave!” “Be strong!”
Facing fear, acknowledging the manifestations of stress in your body, and taking action to manage your anxiety while performing does require bravery and strength. Although many rationally thinking musicians convince themselves that stage fright is a weakness, it is a symptom of caring about what you do. Harness the power of the rush of adrenaline, the heightened awareness, and the value you place on your work to turn your anxiety into an advantage.

Apps for classical music lovers and students

My First Classical Music App
My First Classical Music App (Naxos Digital Services Ltd.)

In a recent article from Macworld, Kirk McElhearn examines a collection of great classical music apps for music lovers and students of all ages. Including:

• My First Classical Music App HD – Aimed at children age four and up, this app introduces kids to the music of eight important composers, with excerpts of The Magic Flute, Peer Gynt, and many more.

My First Orchestra App HD – Also geared toward the younger music student, this app focuses on the orchestra, with introductions to every instrument, with the help of the a friendly troll named Tormod.

Beethoven’s 9th Symphony – For the more practiced listener, Touch Press offers apps that focus on specific works. You can follow along with a score (or even the 1825 manuscript) and listen to four different hallmark recordings from Deutsche Grammophon.

Other music apps I think are worth checking out:

Orchestra – Also from Touch Press, this sleek app provides insight into important works from three centuries of symphonic music, with interactive video playback and commentary from Esa-Pekka Salonen.

• Gramophone Magazine – For Gramophone subscribers, every page of every issue since 1923 is available on your iPhone/iPad (limited free access to non-subscribers), enhanced with extra interactive elements.

• Classical Music Encyclopedia – Around 20, 000 articles (and hundreds of musicians) can be examined in this app, covering a wide range of musical topics – theory, history, composers, and more.

Cleartune and Clockwork – These apps provide an incredibly user-friendly tuner and metronome.