Behind the Scenes – Rising Stars Performance

August 2, 2009

Yesterday at 3 p.m. at Southminster United Church, young musicians performed before friends, family and Chamberfest attendees. Reserved seating was sold out, and as I arrived 40 minutes before concert time, a large crowd already sat on the grass and in folding chairs waiting for the main doors to open. From the perspective of the stage, the church was nicely filled with an appreciative audience.

As a performer, I did not enter through the main admissions door, but came into the church through a side door and set up my things in the green room, an area backstage where performers prep and relax before it’s their turn to play. There were three different green rooms available for us to use. Each was very large and many-windowed with a piano (although we couldn’t play as the sound would have leaked into the performance venue). While we were not able to open the windows, the thick, insulating stone of the church kept the inside of the building relatively cool, and the principal room where most performers relaxed had a water cooler.

While we were waiting for our separate turns, we took the opportunity to chat and get to know one another a bit. For the concert, there were 3 vocalists, 2 guitarists, 2 pianists, 1 cellist, 1 harpist, and 1 flutist (me) ranging in ages from 10 to 18. From what I could tell, everyone seemed to have just the right amount of nerves to add a little adrenaline to their performance, but no one seemed as though they would faint upon setting foot on the stage. All were very interesting individuals, committed and working hard in their music to get to where they want to go with it. I was already acquainted with two of the other performers – cellist Carmen Bruno and I overlapped as members of the Ottawa Youth Orchestra; and harpist Sophie Rusnock (now an OYO harpist) and I had previously played together at an NAC lobby gig and were brought together again to play Ibert’s Entr’acte. Having been absent from the Ottawa scene for the past year, it was fun to see how much we had all grown!

There was one thing almost all of us had in common, and it is really no surprise – the National Capital Region Kiwanis Music Festival. Kiwanis has been a part of my life since I started playing music, first in ensemble divisions and then in solo performance. Outside of studio recitals, there aren’t a lot of places for kids to play where they can practice dealing with all aspects of performance. It’s also the place to see how your skills compare, to hear and covet music which is new to you, and to be inspired by what others are doing. Performing at Kiwanis has helped me to set goals for myself for many years, and some of the advice I’ve had from adjudicators has forever changed the way I think about music and what I want to accomplish as a performer. I was very touched at the end of the concert to come out from backstage and find waiting to congratulate us NCR Kiwanis President Jim Brough who had come to see us perform.

When I rehearsed earlier in the day, what really struck me was the acoustics of the church – I could play an arpeggio, stop, and listen to the notes as a chord still hanging in the air. Although this can be a very beautiful thing to have for the performance of slower pieces, I was playing fast pieces with many leaps between registers. In the empty church, it was impossible to know in advance whether the audience would be large enough to absorb some of the resonance and how it might affect my approach to playing. My challenge in this concert was twofold: to make sure I used the correct amount of articulation and separation between notes so that what the audience heard during fast passages wasn’t a confusing, notey mass; and to ensure that dynamic variations didn’t cause a louder note to hang and obscure softer passages which followed. This was especially difficult during the 4th (Allegro con brio) movement of the Prokofiev Sonata in D major, as there’s a lot of lower register work on the piano and the accompaniment has extreme dynamics – lots of brio (and the piano at full stick). I had similar challenges in playing the Ibert with Sophie. My high start notes would continue ringing in the air while I was playing a lower run, which presented some balance issues. During the actual performance, I felt that having quite a full audience did help the acoustics , as some of the sound was absorbed by audience members. Although I had to keep a close eye on my dynamics and articulation, I still greatly enjoyed the venue.

One thing I had worried about during my rehearsal was the temperature of the room. In the rehearsal, there were only three other people emitting heat, but during the concert there were around three hundred. Temperature greatly affects the tuning of instruments, and on the flute especially. Not only does the flute end up sharp in the low register and flat in the upper, but playing the instrument itself can become difficult. With the nerves and the temperature adding up, there gets to be a lot of sweat build-up underneath the lower lip, right where the lip-plate of the flute makes contact with one’s face. A flutist will usually be seen giving a discreet dab beneath their lip during rests, in an effort to reduce ‘slippage’ and prevent the flute from rolling in, creating an intonation issue and a sound problem, or even resulting in the flute slipping off the face altogether!

From a ‘backstage perspective’, based on audience reactions and my personal satisfaction with my performance, I feel that the concert was a success. I really wish I could have heard the other performers, but the door leading to the stage was very thick, and hardly any sound could travel through it. The only thing we could hear from the green room was uproarious applause from an excited audience for each performer. Well done, everyone, and thank you, Chamberfest, for creating a venue for young classical musicians to perform!

Lindsay Bryden, flutist

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