Focus during performance is the sine qua non of great music-making.
Making music at a high level is simply too hard to achieve without laser focus. Without constant vigilance, extraneous thoughts creep in and with them, memory slips or other little errors. Tuning, vowels, expression all suffer if you aren’t constantly focused on them.
In our 21st century, always-new, go go go culture, how can you teach the focus required for a 2-piece performance, let alone a 2-hour one?
Here are a few things I rely on:
1. Meditation: train the mind to be in a focused, alert state.
2. Muscle memory: train the body with good singing habits that are universal and consistent.
3. Presence in front of the ensemble: if they are doing #2, my presence serves less as a guide to the music than as a way to remind them to remain focused. Relinquish patterns and cues and instead watch their faces and make sure they are in the moment.
I can’t remember many of my best performances as a conductor or as a singer – I was so grounded in the current moment that I literally wasn’t forming memories. Thank goodness for CDs and Youtube.
Practice focus in rehearsal and demand it in performance. It’s a life skill that will improve your students’ music making and serve them well in life.