Clinician's Corner - "The Soloist: Your Time to Shine!"|
by Master Sgt. Stacy Newbrough Ascione
The USAF Band
5/28/2009 - Bolling AFB, Washington, DC -- One of the most fun and challenging things musicians get to do is to be a featured soloist with a large ensemble, such as a band or an orchestra. There are many things to consider when asked to be a soloist.
First, you must choose what to play. What pieces do you enjoy playing? What are your strengths? Also, how much time do you have to prepare for the performance? Do you want to play a familiar piece, or do you want to tackle something you've never played before? If the piece is new to you, make sure you have enough time to learn it.
Next, consider the ensemble with which you'll be playing. If it is a band, does the solo you want to perform have an arrangement for band? And if so, does your band own the arrangement? If not, are they willing to buy or rent it? In some cases, there may be more than one arrangement. Be sure you know which one will be used.
Also, consider then venue where the performance will take place before choosing your piece. Will you be playing in a large concert hall or at a concert in the park? Some pieces, such as substantial concertos, are more suited for formal situations, whereas other shorter, lighter pieces may be more appropriate for outdoor venues. It is also a good idea to consider what other pieces are being programmed for the concert. If the conductor has a particular theme for his or her program, keep that in mind. For example, if your conductor wants to do an all-American program, it might not make sense for you to do your favorite French piece for that particular concert. Frequently, conductors will collaborate with you in this regard.
After you have chosen your piece, the next step is to prepare it. Obviously, that process will involve a lot of practicing, but there are other vital ways to prepare that are equally as important.
Before you start your "wood-shedding", be sure you are very familiar with the piece. Listen to as many interpretations of the piece as you can find. It is easy to obtain recordings through downloading websites, and sometimes you can even find recordings in your local library for free. While listening, make sure to listen actively with a score. It's best to have a score of the arrangement your ensemble will be performing. A piano score can be substituted if the score is not available, but be sure to note what instruments are playing what part. Know how different lines fit together rhythmically and harmonically.
It is very helpful to practice your part with an accompanist. If you have a piano score and know someone with good piano skills, have them play the piano part with your solo part. In this way, you are able to practice leading and communicating your musical ideas to another musician who can react to those ideas. You may discover something you are doing is not clear, or needs to be adjusted in some way. If you do not have access to a pianist, you may find it helpful to use a resource such as accompanimental recordings, which are recordings of the accompaniment only.
While you are in your preparation process, make sure to have direct communication with the conductor and other key musicians. It is helpful for the conductor to know your musical intent in terms of tempos and such before the first rehearsal. Different musicians will play the same piece differently. And remember, the conductor has to prepare as well! If the piece is new and the composer is available for commentary, then use him or her as an opportunity to get direct feedback.
Another important aspect of preparation is to practice not just the music, but also the act of performing itself. Practice your performance for live audiences. Your audience can be anyone: teachers, parents, or friends (I have been known to perform for my dog!). Start by entering the room or stage and bowing. Play the entire piece without stopping, regardless of what happens. Then bow again to acknowledge your audience, recognize any other musicians that are performing with you, and leave the "stage".
Next it is time for the first rehearsal with the ensemble. Be sure to clearly convey your musical ideas. It is all right to be confident with the choices you have made, but also keep in mind sometimes things don't go exactly as you may have planned, so be prepared for the occasional need to make adjustments. It is important to remember every performance is a collaboration between soloist, conductor, ensemble, and composer.
If possible, it is a good idea to see the venue where you will be performing beforehand. If you have access, visit the hall. Determine approximately where you will stand on the stage, and play a little of your piece to experience what you sound like in that hall.
Finally, it is time for the big performance! The most important thing to do at this point is to enjoy yourself because all your hard work is already done! Good luck!
Click here to read a short biography of MSgt Stacy Ascione.
For biographical information about members of The U.S. Air Force Band, please see the Ensembles section of our website.