Category Archives: Stage Presence

Encouraging the Next Generation

Happy New Year!!

December and January have been super busy months, but that’s no excuse for neglecting to post anything. This won’t be long, but I wanted to share a thought with you.

This past Sunday, we had a college singing group visit the church. (These groups are near and dear to me because I was in a group in college as well.)

As I watched the group warm up before the service and sing during the service, it struck me that these young people are choosing to use their talents for the Lord. No one forced them to be in a singing group (as far as I know). No one was making them practice and travel. Good for them!

Most, if not all, of us have been in this same situation. We chose to serve in the music ministry at church growing up or while we were in college. Those were not the easiest of times. There were many times that I wanted to quit. It just didn’t seem “worth it.”

Encouraging words from kind church members made all the difference. Now that I am in the position on the other side of college (aka: getting older), I need to speak up and encourage the next generation.

Everyone needs encouragement. You may not know what someone is going through while they choose to serve the Lord in a church ministry.

But the next generation definitely needs our encouragement. If they quit serving in church, who will we have left?

Just a thought for this week. Sorry if it’s so deep. Enjoy your day!

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Controlling Your Nerves

We had a patriotic program at church yesterday, and I was nervous. Why? For the following reasons:

1.   Patriotic music makes me very emotional, more so than even Christmas music.

2.  My concentration had been off in practice the day before, therefore I felt pressured to concentrate even more during the program.

3.   I was playing an offertory that I only play once or twice a year and had not practiced it as much as I should have.

4.   The prelude music was set for me to play with the fifth song, meaning I had to pay attention to be ready to start with the song on the CD.

Being nervous is not a new feeling for me. When I played my first offertory in church, my legs shook through the entire song! People often look surprised when I tell them that I get nervous. They say that I never look nervous or that they cannot tell that I am nervous. (That’s the point!)

I used to be concerned that I could not get over my nervousness. But after years of playing, I have a theory on nerves. There is a difference between nervousness and adrenaline. The dictionary defines nervousness as “an uneasy psychological state.” Adrenaline is defined as “a hormone…that helps the body meet physical or emotional stress.” Figuratively, adrenaline “is used in speaking of a high state of excitement.”

I look at adrenaline as a nervous excitement. Mentally, I prep myself to use the nervousness as adrenaline to give me energy as I play. The adrenaline then subconsciously gives me more stimulated concentration and focused confidence to perform.

Again, this is just my theory. I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject!

What To Do When the Music Stops

Have you ever been accompanying and had the singer or instrumentalist stop in the middle of the song? Maybe they forgot the words, maybe they started to cry, or maybe they turned too many pages at once, etc.

We all hope these scenarios never happen, but they probably will sometime. Here are a couple examples that happened to me:

·         Instrumentalist – forgot to take a repeat, realized the mistake, stopped and started again. (This is particularly tough because instrumentalists do not have words that you can follow!)

·         Small vocal ensemble – Half the group paused for the interlude while the other half started right into the next verse. I kept playing (something) and waited to see what the majority would do.

·         Soloist – started the song on the wrong note, stopped and asked me to start the song over again.

·         Soloist – overcome with the emotion of the song, stopped and asked me to start over at the second verse of the song.

It is the least distracting if the music continues playing while the musicians get their composure or find their place. Since this does not always happen, we just have to make the best of it. It is always a good idea to discuss this possibility in practice and have a plan in case one of these scenarios happens in performance.

Platform Logistics

How is your church platform set up? How well can you see the pulpit? Do you have enough room to sit comfortably on the bench?

These seemingly little details make a big difference. I played in one church where the piano faced an outside wall. My back was to the choir director – not the best situation!

My preference is to watch the faces or mouths of the people for whom I am accompanying. This way I can be sensitive to any catch breaths, tempo changes, etc. We have a digital piano in our church that sits farther back of the stage, making the angle difficult for accompanying. I have to be even more attentive when playing on the digital piano for this reason. It is important to be able to follow the performer.

Keep your area around the piano neat and organized! Music books stacked on the piano are distracting to the audience. Take your music with you when you leave the piano or set it down out of sight. Our pianos have shelves next to them for storing the hymnbooks and other music. These are relatively new additions and I love them already!

Do you have any tips for improving visualization at the piano? What methods do you use to keep your music organized?

Are You Feeling Intimidated?

If you are just getting started with accompanying, do not be intimidated by the music! Be encouraged and motivated to learn a new skill – a much-desired skill in churches!

I have tried to list a few practical steps for those of you just getting your feet wet.

1.   Know the song. You might get music for a song you have never heard – see if you can find a recording of the song to help you become familiar with it.

2.   Practice on your own. Go through the song on your own practice time before you schedule a practice time with the individual. You will play more comfortably and your singer will feel more confident, too.

3.   Make notes on the music. Mark up the music if you are able. I have learned that relying on my memory does not always work. If an interlude is needed between verses, I will make a notation of that on the music. Use pencil, though, especially if the music is not yours.

4.   Rehearse as you will perform. Practice with the sound equipment on in the auditorium. Pretend as if you are in the service. Play with the same intensity and emotion that you would in the moment. Watch the performer and follow his lead.

5.   Learn from mistakes. Use mistakes in practice as a learning tool. Often, someone will come in at the wrong time (in practice). I might point it out and rehearse that part again. In my mind, though, I know that they might come in wrong during the service. So, I’ll watch them even closer during that section and follow them, even if it means skipping a measure to keep up with them.

Accompanying is a challenge, but it is also very rewarding! Do not be discouraged if not every song goes as planned. Remember that we are ultimately playing for the Lord and giving our best is what He desires. Practice, prepare, and then leave the outcome up to Him!

Accompanist’s Analogy from the Olympics

(NOTE: This article was first published during the 2010 Winter Olympics.)

Last night, Olympic history was set in the pairs figure skating competition. I watched as gold, silver, and bronze medals were awarded to the best figure skaters in the world. During the competition, however, something else caught my attention.

The couples had four minutes or so to combine technical skills with artistic grace and make it look easy in the process. Of course, they all had music to help them accomplish this task. One couple fell on a jump; another lost hold of a lift; even another just slipped on the ice. But the music kept going. Just because a mishap occurred on the ice did not mean that the music paused while they regained their composure. All of the skaters had to catch up or keep up with the music. However, every couple finished their routine strong.

The same is true with accompanying. How many of us have made mistakes during a song? We all have to some degree. But the song continues on. We do not pause in the middle of the song or go back and play a section again. Our job is to keep up with the singer, even if we have to skip measures or catch back up.

Don’t let a mistake fluster you during a song. Keep going, support the singer, and finish strong!

‘Twas the Night Before Sunday

Have you ever been running late on Sunday morning and can’t remember what music you need to take or who’s singing that service? Yes, this has happened to me. I’ll get to church feeling like I’m already running behind. Usually, that’s the day that someone calls in sick or half the choir is out with a flu bug.

I try to get my heart and mind prepared the night before. Here’s a sample checklist:

·         Practice special music – put music in music bag

·         Practice offertory – put music in music bag

·         Practice hymns, including introductions

·         Practice choir music – put music in music bag

·         Look over order of service

·         Put music bag near the door (so I don’t have to look for it in the morning)

This list is not exhaustive, but you get the idea. Lastly, get a good night’s sleep! Go to bed early. I find I make more mistakes playing when I’m tired. I can’t give the necessary support needed when I can’t even concentrate!

Preparation is the key! The Lord deserves our best and we should be prepared to do no less for Him.

Do you have any preparation suggestions? I would love to hear from you!