Its use certainly doesn’t seem to conjure up any particular irregularities or difficulties nor does it seem like it would be particularly difficult to define. That is….
until someone actually asks you to define it….especially in a context relative to musical instrument performance.
The very first time I actually attempted to verbalize such a definition, it quickly became apparent to me that perhaps such a definition required some qualification. Let’s see…are we talking about lesson preparation…..recording preparation…live performance preparation….competition preparation…orchestral audition preparation….etc. etc. etc. Oh and yes…are we speaking from a student’s perspective…a teacher’s…an audience…a jury? Are you starting to see my problem???
Although I have pondered this issue a number of times over my almost half a century of teaching, what really brought it back to the forefront of my mind was a relatively recent national competition in which one of my very fine young university students was a participant. Even though my student and I had made the decision for her to enter this competition a little closer to the actual audition date than I would have normally recommended, the timing still appeared appropriate given the level and excellent practice habits of this strong competitor.
Much to our disappointment she did not progress beyond the first round. Unfortunately I was not in attendance at the competition. However, when I asked her for an assessment of her own performance the response was, “Well, I was actually quite surprised that I was not moved to the next round. I felt well-prepared and that I had played everything extremely well except for a small memorization mishap in one of the works….and perhaps one or two small intonation issues.”
What really seemed to surprise her the most were post-audition judge’s comments that included such remarks as: “It is really unfortunate that this extremely talented young instrumentalist wasn’t better prepared.”
Oh no!!! There goes that word again!! Obviously we have a situation where the parties involved, once again, possessed different personal definitions of the word,”PREPARED”!
So, after years of contemplation, I have finally come to the conclusion that one can only properly define the word, “PREPARED” if such a definition contains reference to the associated expectation.
“To be prepared… is to have achieved the highest level of expectation as defined by the recipient of such efforts.
I know this seems a little cumbersome, but I believe it to be accurate. Bottomline..ANY definition of the word, “prepared” must contain a reference to some level of expectation if it is to be viable. There are just too many possible levels of achievement /accomplishment to successfully define this word without some clarification of expectation!
The primary lesson I have learned from my years of pondering this issue was that it should be the duty of every teacher to help their students develop a clear understanding of this word, “PREPARED” and the appropriate levels of achievement required of each level of expectation.
Typically, I generally tell my students to consider that they are properly prepared for a concert or recorded performance if while on stage no more than 10-20% of their mental capacity is needed to execute a highly accomplished instrumental performance allowing them the remaining 80-90% for focus exclusively on the communicative and expressive elements of their performance.
In closing, I thought I would share a short story with you that actually has little to do with music or music performance. However…it does definitely relate to being prepared!
Many years ago I received my certification as a Flight Instructor for both Private and Commercial Pilots. I was so thrilled and excited and truly loved teaching flying. All went really well for the first couple of months or so. Eventually a couple of my students reached the point in their studies that required them to begin building solo time in the aircraft. In other words, it became necessary for me to assess their flying skills and judgment and make the determination as to whether they would be safe flying in an aircraft totally by themselves. I would be delegated to observing their flight from the ground.
At first this seemed relatively straight forward and a natural right of passage shared by most flight instructors and their students. Until…until the night following the very first time I authorized such a solo flight. I will never forget it. I suddenly awoke in a state of panic. My heart was racing. I was soaked in sweat and much too agitated to remain in my bed. All I could think about was, “What have I done? What have I done?”
Certainly, as a music teacher, I had made the judgment on many occasions relative to whether a student was prepared enough or not to successfully perform their recital on a stage in front of their peers, colleagues and family. However, in the world of flying, I now found myself in the position of attesting to the fact that based solely on what I have taught another human being about aviation they are perfectly competent to safely climb into an aircraft and successfully pilot it through take-off, cruise and landing without even the slightest bit of assistance from me.
It is one thing to approve a student for a recital performance where the greatest risk may entail a few out-of-tune notes or perhaps even a couple of minor memory slips. It is quite another issue when my personal approval now creates a situation in which a human being is turned loose on the public in general with a machine as potentially dangerous as an airplane!! In this case we are not talking about a few missed notes, rather the potential of a disaster of such magnitude as a plane crashing into a school filled with helpless children.
Well, I am delighted to report that as a result of my own proper preparation…and that of my students…..every solo flight ever approved by me resulted in a most positive experience. Thank God!!