Music students engage in more than 10’000 hours of musical practice in their life before being ready to begin a professional career and most of these hours are spent practicing at home or in a practice room or studio box at Conservatoires and music schools. Musical skills and interpretation abilities are forged and refined mostly while practicing in a small room, often with inappropriate acoustics, and in isolation. The discrepancy between this setting and the reality of the concert hall is striking. Acoustics, size, shape, perspective, and presence of the audience: the difference between the two scenarios poses the question to what extent years of practicing in studio boxes or small rooms prepare music students for the real world experience of the concert venue. How do music students cope with this experience? What strategies do they use––if any––to prepare themselves for this change of spatial and social setting? How do they perceive, feel and experience the space around them? This case study project explored these questions through a semi-structured interviews run with four highly trained music students, prior and after a solo concert that marked the launch of their career as professional performers.
Results show that this change of context poses three main challenges to young musicians: different acoustics, psychological pressure and the kind of attitude that the concert situation requests. These challenges are experienced as inevitable components of musicians’ life and students are reluctant to admit those difficulties while striving to find strategies to cope with them. Three strategies emerged as beneficial: mental rehearsal, training in a concert-like setting and enhancing flexibility.