Looking back at the many recording projects we have had over the years, I remember a strong motivation that helped us get through a lot of "challenging assignments." There we sat staring at those trumpet folders bulging with charts, ready to be recorded within three hours. Required was accuracy, intonation, balance and all of that stuff. But more than survival in a mistake-free zone, we were expected to contribute style, flair, elan, or, as Jimmy Levine used to say, pizazz.
So what goes through your mind when the tapes are rolling, as they used to say, or when the stage grows instantly silent before the baton comes down? Back up a second. What's the goal, and why are we here? To get the notes, collect the check and go home, or something more?
Successful music performance is about being convincing to the audience. Before great trumpet playing can grab the listeners' attention, the player must first have a firm grasp of the music as well as the notes. Otherwise the pressure will trump the trumpeter. Although that sounds overly simple, it can be neglected. The antidote is remembering that our purpose is entertainment, musical story-telling and drama. Listeners expect all the right notes, but their emotions must be stirred as well. With this in mind, we have a greater chance of making music, and we become armed with our greatest weapon, confidence.
Our job as students of music performance, at whatever level, should be to so strengthen our concept of each piece, that we own it, and can't wait to project it to listeners. As in political debates, I'm reminded that passionate principled communication wins the day. It's not enough to lay out even the best of plans. People want to be completely convinced.