Doug Balliett

Doug Balliett

Performing artists embody their characters on stage, channel expertly a composer's intentions, dance and sing with grace and verve. Somehow they must get into the zone.

The Post and Courier spoke with a few involved in Spoleto Festival USA this year to find out how they prepare to perform.

Doug Balliett, a double bass player and composer performing for the second time in the chamber music series, has had a lot to do this season. He has been undergirding performances of several ensemble 18th- and 20th-century works, and he has presented his own piece, "Echo and Narcissus." Here is her regimen:

My daily schedule changes every day; the life of a musician is quite erratic. However, there are certain things I try to hit without fail. Some form of exercise is mandatory, or I'll go crazy. While I'm in Charleston, I like to go running around the Battery, or if it's raining I'll do push-ups and pull-ups at the house.

I also need to be constantly creating, to keep my muse fresh. If I don't have time to compose, I will at least write a few lines of poetry (I've been composing wicked epigrams on all the personalities at the festival). As for food, many of my chamber music colleagues adhere to a ketogenic diet, which I've been following for about five months. It gives me energy and focus through the day, which is great for these long rehearsal days, though I've had to buy all new pants, because I've lost so much weight. It's great to have so many partners in this diet here at the festival.

When it comes to the bass, I feel so comfortable on the instrument that if I don't have time to warm up before a rehearsal, it usually isn't a problem, I can fall into my normal playing habits without much trouble. The viola da gamba, which I'm playing on a few concerts, is a different story. It is a delicate and temperamental instrument, which requires constant tuning and a nice long warm-up to get all the strings singing. I always try to arrive quite early to those services, to give the instrument time to acclimate to the environment.

A performance is a sacred thing, but I try not to build it up too much in my head. I do believe that every performance should be given 1,000-percent focus and energy, because it could be a very special moment for any given audience member. But if I let that attitude rule my life, I'd be vomiting for nervousness every day. I trust myself and my preparation, and try to be as comfortable as I can be on stage. I find that if I'm enjoying the music-making with my colleagues, that joy is infectious, and that is the most important ingredient to my performances.

My guilty pleasure is probably reading books. On my rare day off, I sit on the porch with an excellent volume, a cold drink, and lose myself in worlds past. If I can work in some exercise and some composing, I consider that the best possible day. These may not sound like vices, but our schedule is so intense, sometimes reading a book feels truly irresponsible.

I also eat a lot of BBQ, but who could fault me for that?

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