Many of my non-musician friends have recently asked me, "What do you do to prepare for a concert on the day of the performance?" This has prompted me to think about pre-concert rituals. Some of my musician friends are superstitious, in that they have to eat a certain meal beforehand or wear the same special pair of lucky cranberry-colored socks on stage, for instance. Generally speaking, most musicians I know try to take it easy on a concert day. Of course that's not always possible, but on the day of a big performance, one would ideally have time for a leisurely walk and a good catnap, after having done just enough light practicing of one's instrument to feel warmed up and ready for action. I have one friend who invariably relies on a minor caffeine transfusion and a substantial hit of nicotine before he performs, yet even with all of that coursing through his system, he still manages to walk out on stage and play like an absolute god. (As someone who is very caffeine-sensitive, the merest thought of drinking coffee on the day of a performance is enough to give me a serious attack of the jitters on the spot!) Another friend of mine calms her pre-concert nerves by giving shoulder rubs to whomever is fortunate enough to be nearby. That's lucky for all of us, but she swears that the act of massaging other people's shoulders limbers up her own hands so that she then feels warmed up enough to play. I don't do anything out of the ordinary immediately before walking on stage, but I've just come to realize that my afternoon pre-concert ritual is perhaps not so typical, for I usually get in the kitchen and bake.
It's always baking, not cooking. Any substantial knifework tires my hands easily, something I can't afford to do before performing, and let's not even talk about what disasters could occur if a knife slipped. So as long as I have good oven mitts, baking is safer, and it's also particularly easy when you have a stand mixer to help. (How I love my KitchenAid!) Baking is also comforting. I don't know anyone who would not be moved to happiness by the warm toasty aroma of a freshly baked cake filling the house. I am forever improvising in my savory recipes, but baking is more of an exact science and I am much more inclined to follow a recipe more carefully, especially when I am guaranteed success. (Kitchen failures always make me especially sad, something I don't want to run the risk of before a big concert!)
I realize I have a history of pre-concert baking, starting from when I was in college. I usually threw a party after my recitals, a tradition that still exists today. In thinking back over of my various recitals over the past fifteen years, there is frequently a dessert attached to the memory of that day. It's one of those strange ratios, in that the more important the evening's concert is, the stronger my compulsion is to get in the kitchen in the afternoon. But I don't think my musical performances have suffered too much from this diversion of energy, and if anything, my kitchen endeavors have possibly even helped me. A brief case history, if you will: