Think about the music.
Honor the composer.
Listen to the sounds you are making.
Advice from past teachers is echoing in my head during recital season. After all the hours spent practicing and refining, there should be no doubt that the performance will be successful.
But there is doubt, and often plenty of it.
And then there is irony. In our classical training we are taught that the performance is about making the music as good as it can be. But what happens after the performance is about hearing praise for the performer, not the composer. I am still waiting for an audience member to say, "That Beethoven, what a genius!" Sure, they may say how much they enjoyed a certain piece, that it is a favorite or something they would like to hear again. Truth be told, they can hear their favorite pieces without ever leaving home, thanks to electronic access to music of all kinds.
Truth be told, they come to hear a certain performer play a recital live. And this starts with children in my studio. I can't fool myself into believing that townspeople would come to my studio recital to hear other people's children play, or to hear yet another arrangement of "Ode to Joy". They wouldn't, and they don't.
The challenge is to accept that the performance is not just about the music. However, it is not just about the performer either. A successful performance is about the performer at a given moment in time interpreting a piece of music written at another moment in time. Oh, yes, and an audience listening to the performance. It is the whole ball of musical wax.
The trick, if I dare call it a trick, is to find a conscious balance of these elements. A successful performance includes technical control, musical mastery, personal expression and communication with the audience. In other words, an inclusive awareness of the music, the performer and the audience.
Thinking about the music can be a great way to prioritize these elements, not ignore them, but prioritize them. After all, the music will not play it itself - at least not live.