'As always, it was sheer pleasure to observe Robin Hill's remarkable fluent technique: everything looks easy when he plays it.' Colin Cooper- Classical Guitar Magazine ----- 'Wonderful for their (Hill & Wiltschinsky) precision, touch and clarity of sound... refined virtuosity, the achievement of a long interpretive process.' Il Giornale D'Italia (Rome) ----- 'I loved your CD and thought your technique and performance were fabulous...' Rick Wakeman

Thursday, June 25, 2009

To Eat or Not To Eat - Before A Concert

The other day I had an idle thought which I put to my Twitter followers.
Basically I was interested in the eating habits of the musicians amongst them.
The tweet said,

"To the musicians out there. Do you like to eat before a performance or do you prefer to wait until afterwards?"

I was very pleased when I received replies from soprano/pianist Barbara Rathbone, classical musician Jamie Pullman and oboe/English horn player, Patty Mitchell.

I have written before about musicians requirements in preparation of a concert.
Here's an example, 'Sex, Drugs and Classical Music', and another, 'Nigel Kennedy - Running on Pure Adrenaline'.

But this related more to the use of Beta Blockers, not the daily requirement of food.

However I have also discussed Robin's needs pre concert here, with, 'Bananas on the High Seas and Bottom E', and 'From, Fish - Brain Food for Musicians, to Oscar Peterson, to Elgar.'

Robin always eats before a performance, whether it is classical, or with a band. But there is a difference. When playing with a band he just feels better if he has eaten, but if performing a classical concert, he needs to.
I believe this is something to do with not only the increased pressure he feels when playing classical concerts, but also, the level of concentration that is required of him.
He's not alone in this.
The renowned guitarist, Julian Bream, has said that he always has a plentiful supply of sandwiches backstage to eat before his concert.

But you do have to watch these musicians.
There's an amusing anecdote around Handel and his dietary requirements.
He was frequently known, when entertaining guests, to suddenly announce he had a musical idea, and to leave the room.
The 'idea' was simply that he kept his high quality wine in his music room, whilst serving a cheaper version to his guests, and had simply 'nipped' out for a quick drink...
Whether or not the great man ate before a concert is not known but I would be extremely surprised if he didn't!

Getting back to the results of this highly unscientific research, well, the results were mixed.

Barbara, a singer, always eats after a performance as she finds eating before affects here voice. When I asked about the energy required to perform, she acknowledged it was adrenaline that got her through.

This is completely understandable. A singers needs are very different to other instruments.

The orchestral player Jamie Pullman had a different approach. If performing with the orchestra he ate before, but if with his quartet, then afterwards.
The increased exposure, and therefore pressure, of the quartet performance appears to alter his needs. Although he did add that he found it easier to concentrate on the music if he was 'uncomfortable' due to being hungry.

Patty Mitchell, another orchestral player, always eats before a performance, although only a small amount. I assume this is provide just the required amount of energy without causing discomfort.

It seems, as you would expect, that every musician has their own way of dealing with the question of whether to eat before or after a performance.
It also appears that nerves/stress, the need to focus on the job in hand, and the ability to concentrate all play a part.

From observing Robin perform over many years I know the amount of energy he expends when on stage. Yes, when you watch a programme about classical musicians and see them sweating away under the bright lights, it's all true, not just sprayed on for effect.

But there was one aspect to all this that struck me.
Only 'classical' musicians amongst my twitter followers responded to the question.
Initially I had addressed it to all musicians.
There could be many reasons for this.
They may not have been 'watching' at the time the tweet was posted, they could have been busy doing other things rather than replying to a random tweet from me, or they simply may not have felt the issue was important to them for their particular style of playing.
This in itself raises more questions so I would love to hear from musicians from all walks of life to hear their views.


Patty said...

"They may not have been 'watching' at the time the tweet was posted, they could have been busy doing other things rather than replying to a random tweet from me, or they simply may not have felt the issue was important to them for their particular style of playing."

... oh, they were probably EATING. ;-)

I remember, years ago, I had a rather important English horn solo. As I was walking down a backstage hallway the conductor asked me how I was. I said, "Fine! I just had a nice meal." He looked at me in horror and said, "You EAT before you play?!" I'm assuming that meant he didn't! Back then I actually ate as much as I wanted, but I was probably 20 at the time. Now I don't eat as much because of the discomfort of too much food in the belly. I've never had to not eat because of nerves. Believe me, I DO get nervous. I just don't get nauseous or anything when it comes to nerves.

Of course now that I've written than I'll probably start getting that way. Hmmm.

Anna said...

That made me laugh!

Sounds like you got the balance right to me. Stick with it!

Patty said...

Oh, and I"m assuming it goes without saying that I don't consume alcohol before performances or (most) rehearsals! But, then again, I've read articles about orchestra members drinking even during intermission (or interval? Isn't that what it's called in your neck 'o the woods?) ... so maybe I do need to say it. :-)

Anna said...

You could have opened a whole can of worms with that one!!!
Yes, we call it an interval here, and I wouldn't like to say what goes on...
However I do know that Robin never drinks alcohol before or during a performance but has been known to enjoy one or two afterwards!