Blog: Cutting Through the Noise

Blog of Cellist Joshua Roman

Practicing vs. Performing

"The way you practice it is the way you will perform it." These words echo in my head often, usually in my father's voice. I'm not sure where he first heard it, or perhaps he was inspired and came up with it on his own. In any case, it has stuck with me through the years.

When I was very young, I think that practicing like a performance motivated me to think about the quality of tone, and intonation, that I produced. My first teacher, Lacy McLarry, would often advise me to "close your eyes and imagine that you are in Carnegie Hall", which also gave me a sense of grand purpose and detailed focus. He is also largely responsible for my Heifetz obsession. :) But over the years, these admonitions have come to mean different things, often evolving as I reach different levels of cellistic understanding. (Also, after performing in Carnegie Hall last year, I now have a different, less fantastical but no less exciting view when I close my eyes.)

Practicing vs. Performing. Analytical vs. Free? There's just something about being in front of an audience that tears down the walls, and I feel free. This feeling is hard to replicate in a small practice room, or on a hotel bed facing a mirror, my own familiar visage staring back and daring me to be vulnerable in front of my harshest critic. Is practicing the pursuit of perfection, and performing the art of transcendence?

No. This is where the struggle, and joy, of practicing lies for me right now. How can I play in the moment, every moment, even when I am "getting ready", or "wood-shedding"? How to keep multiple lines of focus running at the same time: feel the phrase, experience and project the emotion, stay relaxed and strong, keep good hand position, make that shift, love the ring of that chord...? Visualization is key, and trust is essential. Practicing is all about building trust. Finding what is good and repeating it, helping it grow, not just berating yourself for mistakes and giving the foibles undeserved attention.

Bach today was better. Some moments really felt connected, not just like preparation, but a real musical and meaningful experience. The amazing and ironic thing is that when you can let go, even in practice, often those little bobbles disappear of their own accord (a concept explored in "The Inner Game of Tennis") and you experience a unique and exhilarating energy that touches on what makes performing such a human phenomenon.

Every note counts. Each phrase can mean something. The cellist sitting alone in his room is also worthy of feeling moved by the music, even as it flows through him.

Practice it the way you will perform it.