Win a concerto competition like Kendra Heslip

Kendra Heslip (’15 BMus) shares tips on how to prepare for a winning performance

Kendra Heslip (’15 BMus) is a concerto veteran, performing four concerts in the last four years while completing her Bachelor of Music degree in Saxophone Performance. The star soloist and 2015 graduate recently won the 2015 Northern Alberta Concerto Competition (Senior Winds), and has a few tips for budding musicians who wish to perfect their craft before stepping out onto the stage.

Practice, Practice, Practice (and no texting)

The quickest way to get better is to practice, and take your practicing seriously! If you’re in the practice room for an hour, but you’re texting for some of it, or outside talking to friends, you’re wasting your own time. Be efficient. It’s better to practice for 20 minutes and focus the entire time than an hour and a half when you’re not focusing. I practice four to five hours a day.

Don’t Be a Diva

Professionally: Know what you want and don’t settle. If the concerto is at quarter notes 144, and you really can’t play it at 144, don’t tell the conductor to play it at 144. That sounds really simple, but there’s always that soloistic ego that says I can play it fast. Play to your limits, and then as you get older and as you get better, and you practice, your limits will grow.

Personally: Competing with other people is emotionally draining. You really have to put it into perspective and be positive about the whole thing. I love hearing what everyone else is doing, even if it’s not my category or not my instrument. Just seeing what other people are coming up with, the levels that other people are reaching, it makes me want to be better too.

Memorize Early!

Aim to have pieces memorized at least two weeks before your actual performance date. I think of competitions as goal setting — I have to have this music learned to this level by this date. Whether it’s scales at 120 with all the correct articulation patterns, or an entire concerto, it’s all the same thing.

Perform It!

Once you’ve memorized the piece, perform it as much as you can. It’s a totally different scenario to be alone in your practice room when you can forgive yourself for your mistakes. When you’re in front of people you’re a lot harder on yourself, and you need to be hard on yourself all the time so that you’re focusing.

Don’t Panic

Throughout my final year of my undergrad studies, I worked part time in the Department of Music as the concert assistant for Convocation Hall. It was especially nice when we had visiting artists and I could sit backstage and see how they were getting ready to play and observe their pre-performance rituals, how they interact as a group. When you don’t see them crying or freaking out, or having panics, it teaches you how to be a good professional!