How’s The Conversation Going?
Performing an effective piano arrangement can be compared to meeting an interesting person for the first time. How do you imagine the conversation would progress? Is it likely that this new acquaintance would know your entire history within the first three minutes of chatting?
Probably not. If it went that way, it’s pretty likely that there wouldn’t be a whole lot to share after that. The type of conversation leaves little room for mystery and would get stale pretty quickly. Furthermore, the person you’re talking to might disappear pretty quickly.
Easy Does It
Instead, you would be more apt to introduce yourself by name, maybe say a few words about the weather or environment that you are both a part of, and offer some additional light banter. Allowing the conversation to gradually unfold is conducive to the interaction having a chance to develop naturally.
As a performer, you are also “conversing” with your listeners. They may not be literally talking to you personally, but they do interact with what’s going on intellectually and emotionally. It makes sense to allow this interaction to develop gradually and naturally as well.
Whatever your particular skill level, you can indeed have a quality interaction with those who are present. Members of your audience, while sipping a martini, enjoying a meal, or quietly chatting, are not looking to be impressed by everything you are capable of doing technically. They do, however, place value on whether or not your performance compliments the ambiance or not.
Pace Yourself Through A Piano Arrangement
As people become more engaged with your playing, they are especially intrigued when a performer projects with a certain degree of finesse. Playing to your capacity during the first eight bars of a ballad doesn’t leave you with much room to develop. Actually, if you do choose to “put it all on the table” in a short amount of time, chances are you’ll be losing your listeners’ interest before you reach the bridge.
Put simply, don’t offer everything you know all at once. Be delicate in your approach. Allow the “conversation” to manifest in a tactful way. Again, reflect on a hypothetical interaction with a first time acquaintance. “Speak” to your audience with the a similar intent that includes sensitivity, discretion, and a desire to slowly reveal what you would like to share.
For example, if you intend to play through a couple choruses of Bart Howard’s Fly Me To The Moon, you might consider a delicate intro, playing through the first chorus at an especially low dynamic level, approaching the second chord with a little improvisation perhaps leading into some swing with improvisation, and finally resolving the last A and B section in a way that suits you. That’s only a suggestion and not to be interpreted literally. Just keep it interesting.
Focus On Your Choreography
By setting aside some practice time that focuses on the arrangement itself of a favorite standard rather than various technical aspects of your performing skills, you will soon discover that your maturity as a musician is greatly enhanced. However you choose to put together those arrangements, remember to always be your own voice. Your audience will reap wonderful benefits from that… and so will your integrity as a musician.