Behind Every Performance


One of the privileges we have, living in today’s world, is access to pristine, note-perfect recordings on YouTube, the radio, CDs. But this privilege comes at a cost. Performers, as well as our audiences, have developed the mind-set that such perfection should be possible every time we play for others – whether we are hanging out with friends on the front porch or attending a performance in a concert hall. And, Lord knows, we performers try our best. I’ve spent most of my adult life feeling like if I couldn’t perform something perfectly, it wasn’t worth playing for others.

Here’s what we ALL need to understand. Like the cross-stitching example above, behind every seemingly perfect performance there’s been a mess the audience will never see! Struggle is an unavoidable part of learning to play a dulcimer or preparing to perform. It’s always going to be a mess before it sounds better. If you’re planning to play for others in the near future – whether just for an audience of 1 or 2, or an large group, I found a good suggestion that might help you.

“Don’t practice; perform the sound.”

What!!!!! When I’m getting ready for a performance, the idea of NOT practicing seems ridiculous. But (I admit), when I’m practicing in the privacy of my home and no one is listening, I probably have a lower level of awareness of how I’m doing. I’m running through the repertoire, focusing on whether I can remember the next notes or phrase, whether I’m hitting the right strings, and timing the length of my play list. But what if I practiced as if I were on the stage? What if I brought the same kind of energy, expression, and focus to my practice as if I were performing? Could that make a difference to my comfort zone later on? I think so.

I have often compared my performing self to the swan. The swan appears to be elegance in motion, swimming around the pond, but what is hidden from our view is the activity going on beneath the water’s surface. We don’t see the hard work conducted by the swan’s webbed feet which propels the graceful motion we see and admire.

It’s the same with our performances. Our audience will never see what a mess our tunes had been a just a short while back. But they will surly appreciate the fact that you were willing to play for them and share your love of the dulcimer.

Happy dulcimering,



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