In working with a Book 3 cello student recently, I realized that preparing for a recital is a lot like baking a cake! Let me explain:
When you bake a cake, after you measure each ingredient and mix them together according to the recipe, it is time to bake the cake. The cake may need to bake for about an hour, so you set your timer for 50 minutes and pop it in the oven. When the timer rings after 50 minutes, you insert a toothpick or a fork into the middle of the cake, and it comes out a little sticky with batter—the cake still needs more time to bake! You put the cake back in the oven and set the timer for 5 more minutes. This time there is less sticking to the fork, but you can tell that the cake still needs more time as the fork is not totally clean. At this point you are so excited for the cake to finally be done that you stay near the oven to take the cake out right when the buzzer goes off again after five more minutes. This time the top of the cake is shiny and springy, and the fork comes out totally clean–the cake is DONE!
Even though you would love to dig in to the cake right away, it still needs to cool for a while and then finally be iced for an extra layer of scrumptiousness!
So how is baking a cake like preparing for a recital? Well, after we learn all of the notes and bowings of a piece by heart, there is still a lot to work needed on the polishing of the piece, such as dynamics, phrasing, character, and beautiful tone. It also takes a while for the piece to settle into your fingers and be really comfortable and fun to play. While you are polishing this piece, you are most likely beginning to learn a new piece as well with new challenges to master.
While you are working on a piece, it is almost like you are baking it like a cake in the oven. As it gets more and more comfortable to play, it is close to being baked through and almost ready to come out of the oven, or be performed for an audience. Sometimes when you try to perform a piece that is not baked all the way through, some of it may fall apart or get mixed up, just like a cake may be too soft and runny on the inside if you take it out before it has baked the right amount of time.
One of my students has worked hard to learn a new Book 3 piece over the past few weeks and was eager to play it on a recital in place of the Book 2 review piece that we had decided would most likely be her recital piece. Even though she could play all of the notes correctly in the new piece, we could both tell that this piece needed more time to become totally “baked” with dynamics, phrasing, etc. for a great recital experience. The Book 2 piece flowed right out of her with only one small hesitation. She knew immediately that this piece was much more performance-ready for the coming week’s recital–it was fully baked and just needed a bit more icing to make it totally delicious!
There have been many times that my students have asked to play their newest piece on a recital, and I have almost always said they need to play a more comfortable review piece instead. The audience will enjoy hearing any piece that you play, that you can really play fluently and musically EVEN (and especially!) if it not your most advanced piece! I always say that I would rather hear an absolutely beautiful Twinkle on a recital than a more difficult piece that is not polished and ready to play with joy and ease 🙂 And I myself would rather perform a piece I know very well, that is really in my fingers and in my head, than I piece I have just mastered.
Happy baking and playing!