You’ve spent weeks and months preparing for that solo recital, and everything is prepared to the best of your ability. Your dress rehearsal went well, and you feel confident about the big day…now what? The recital day routine, like many other aspects of musical performance, should be contemplated and worked out well in advance. Over the years, I’ve arrived at a plan that helps me feel relaxed and ready to perform. After experimenting with different things, I’ve found something that works for me.
In a perfect world, we would have the freedom to clear our schedules on the day of a big performance or audition, and spend our time in quiet reflection until the appointed time. The reality though is that work and school schedules will proceed as usual, regardless of our own personal performance calendars. Feel free to use any (or none) of the following as you work out your own pre-recital routine!
- Day Before: Get a “normal” amount of sleep the night before, usually defined as 7 to 9 hours for adults. If my schedule allows, I might sleep in for 10-15 minutes extra, but no more. I generally practice as I normally would, perhaps running the program one final time or spot checking places as necessary. Dinner the night before isn’t restrictive, but I am careful not to overindulge on anything too spicy or salty.
- Morning: Follow my normal warm-up routine, but with some modifications (see below). Continue with my usual teaching and/or meeting schedule. I also make sure to drink lots of water throughout the day (which I normally do). Here’s my typical recital day warm-up routine.
- Breathing/Relaxation exercises (5 minutes)
- One or two slow studies from Nancy Sullivan’s Flow Studies for Horn, or other similar materials.
- 15-20 minutes of my normal maintenance routine (currently Douglas Hill’s Warm-ups and Maintenance Sessions for the Horn Player), then STOP. No more practice for the day. I might play briefly in some lessons if necessary, but in general I avoid too much extra playing throughout the day.
- Lunch/Afternoon: Lunch as normal, but again avoiding anything too spicy or salty. Keep drinking water! For a 7:30 p.m. recital, I try to leave school by 4:00 p.m. if my schedule permits so that I can relax at home for an hour or so before dinner. Once at home, I “unplug” from work emails, social media, and pretty much anything that might be stress inducing! As an aside, this is my normal practice even on a non-recital day, and I have found it very helpful in sustaining a career without getting burned out. I might read, spend time with family, or simply sit quietly and visualize the upcoming performance. Time doesn’t usually permit going through the entire program in my mind’s ear, but starting each piece or movement internally can be helpful. *If you can’t make it back home from the office or school before recital time, find a quiet place free from distractions and do the same thing. Perhaps a brief phone call to family or a close friend to help settle your mind.
- Dinner/Evening: Eat a light dinner or even just a substantial snack, making sure that I eat enough to have energy but not so much that I feel overly full. This might take some experimenting to figure out. A typical recital day dinner for me might be a sandwich or a small helping of whatever is on our dinner menu at home. My go to snacks are fruits, almonds, and peanut butter. Anything that provides energy and doesn’t dry you out is good. I avoid too much caffeine, maybe having a cup of green tea after the meal/snack. Brush my teeth, change into recital clothes, and head to the hall by 6:00 or 6:15 p.m. (I have about a 20 minute commute).
- At the Hall: I like to get to the hall in plenty of time to do some more relaxation/breathing exercises, and go through the same flow studies with which I began the day. I might add in some light flexibility or longish tones to loosen back up if necessary. By this time it’s close to 7:00 p.m., at which point I put the horn down and read or just sit back and relax. I try to touch base with any collaborators and/or stage hands on the recital, just to make sure they have everything they need from me. The house at my university generally opens at 7:15 p.m., and everything I need for the first half is on stage by this time. A few minutes before going out, I play a few flexibility exercises in the middle register, empty all the water out of my horn, and take several deep, relaxed breaths. Go out and have fun!
All of the above is subject to modification, and I would love to hear from other performers about their pre-recital routines. It’s a fascinating subject, with plenty of room for further study.