In Conversation: Jonathan Xian

In Conversation: Jonathan Xian

The 2017 winner of 3MBS' The Talent on practicing and making the most of your downtime.

Jonathan Xian
Melbourne, Australia

In Conversation: Jonathan Xian

The 2017 winner of 3MBS' The Talent on practicing and making the most of your downtime.

Firstly, congratulations for winning 3MBS' The Talent! Can you tell us a little about the experience of being part of the competition and what it meant to come away as the winner?

Thank you! I found performing on the Talent to be so much fun and the comments I received from the judges were very helpful. Everyone at 3MBS has been super friendly as well. As several of my friends have previously performed on past seasons of the Talent, I decided that this year was my turn to try it. Honestly, the experience of performing was wonderful for me and to be selected as the winner for this season was just icing on the cake!

Performing on the radio is nothing like playing in front of an audience and there are so many things you have to be aware of that wouldn't usually play on your conscious in any other environment. What did you learn about giving your best performance live on air and what were the biggest differences to giving a traditional performance on stage? 

It is quite an odd feeling when you're playing in a small, empty studio, and yet you know that your performance is reaching the ears of an indefinite number of listeners, who are tuned in from various locations. Waiting for a cue to start playing immediately at the beginning of each piece was also something foreign to me. Of course, there is the daunting idea that any slips you make will be permanently stored in digital form, which is the same for all recorded performances, but at the same time you're not worried about how you look, or other aspects of traditional performance etiquette. I was also able to invite my family into the studio to watch my performance, which made everything a whole lot more relaxed and enjoyable.

You're keeping pretty busy at the moment, studying not only a Bachelor of Music but also a Bachelor of Law at Monash University! How do you juggle the two and have you found that the way you study one influences how you approach the other?

It hasn't always been easy to juggle the two, especially before exams or important performances or auditions. Sometimes I do wish there were more hours in the day in which to get everything done! But it has taught me to study and practice efficiently, and always with an objective in mind. Having to switch between the analytical side of the brain required to study the law, and the creative and emotional side required to play music is a tricky thing to get used to. Nonetheless, it is always refreshing to be able to focus on things that are completely different, which tends to provide that extra bit of motivation.

When preparing for a competition or recital, what are your steps to feeling performance-ready? Do you have any tried and true methods of preparation?

One thing I always need to do is to have at least one practice run under performance conditions, usually a week or so before the performance. Setting up a video camera alwaysgives me a bit of extra pressure, and allows me to watch myself afterwards in order to pick up anything I may not have otherwise noticed. I've also come to realise the importance of getting enough sleep and its effect on my playing, so I try to set aside a few extra hours in the days leading up to the performance. I still get nervous right before performing, but doing these things and practising well helps with feeling bit more confident.

Between study for your two degrees and working, it must be hard to find the time to wind down! How do you like to spend the precious hours you do get to use for downtime? 

On most days, I enjoy just being at home with my family, not necessarily doing anything special, but just relaxing after dinner or watching television. (I'm an avid follower of Masterchef!) We’ve also just come back from a holiday in Europe, which was incredibly scenic. When I have more time to myself, I also like to dance. In high school I was passionate about breakdancing, which I know seems terribly incompatible with the piano, and until last year I used to be quite involved with a student-run dance club called Flare Dance Ensemble. Although I'm not so involved anymore, I still find dancing from time to time to be very therapeutic, as well as a form of exercise which is both fun and involves creativity.

Finally, when you're at the piano keyboard facing a particularly tricky passage or bar, how do you tackle it? Break it down for us!

I find that playing slowly, in small sections and hands separately is usually key in working out the most comfortable hand positions to play with. It is probably also a good idea to memorise the music as early as possible, by identifying patterns in the music and analysing its structure. I find that after I am able play fluently with each hand, it then becomes much easier to reduce the tempo again and put two hands together from memory. Of course, tricky passages come in all sorts of varieties, and there is no single, universal method for tackling all of them. So I think it is important to be flexible and to design your approach based on the music in front of you!