Hilary Hahn on daydreaming as a mode of practicing music, of priming yourself to go with the flow in performance

"Let’s see. So, I’m trying to think of a parallel in another topic because it’s really hard to describe. It’s like if you just have a blank piece of paper and you have a pen and you draw a line. What else can you do with that line? Are you going to draw another line off of that line? Are you then gonna do like a circle? It’s kind of doodling? It’s mental doodling, with phrasing, with tempo, with everything.

I kind of start with a blank slate. I reverse the assumptions that I have. I just neutralize everything and then I’m...Kind of letting my mind wander. I’m thinking about what is going on with the orchestra. [Remember: she’s talking about personal practice here, not rehearsal much less actual performance.] Waiting for something to occur to me. I think people don’t ever think that happens in practice.

For a lot of people, I think practice is about being more accurate, improving your playing, being more expressive, being more this or that. But for me, yes, there’s that, but... Those are the tools to get to the point where you can let your mind wander and get ideas. Or it’s like having a bunch of Legos. What are you going to build with those Legos? You put one Lego on top of another and it kind of looks like a house. But then you realize, oh, I have these other Legos. Am I gonna build more in this house? Or am I gonna go off in that direction?

I’ll think about basic things like do I want a crescendo when it goes up or a decrescendo when it goes up? I’m always trying to trigger in mind into new phrasing ideas, so I don’t get stuck and so that when I’m working with other people, I don’t have a lot of rehearsal time and I need to present a unified concert. So, when I’m working with other people, how can I play it in a way that’s authentic to me, but really coincides with what they’re doing and brings out a better version of the music than we could arrive at ourselves separately."