Skip to main content

Performance Thoughts

Steve was helping me to edit some sound clips for my website (they're not up yet - that's my next project) and it's amazing how hard it is to come up with 30 seconds of CD quality material from an hour long recital that was well received and that I felt very good about even at the time. There's always something a little inconsistent, or a little bit of water in a key, or a little bit of a rough attack. There are moments, too, when in playing from memory I catch myself starting the wrong note and instantly switch to the correct one. It's not finger slips, it is memory slips, but more along the lines of an "er" in an otherwise articulate conversation than a complete loss of train of thought or than a garbled or meaningless speech. In general I prefer to play from memory because of the intensity of focus it requires, and the lack of anything physical between me and the audience, and a little bit of a mumble every now and then I think is a small price to pay for that level of excitement - for me and for them as well. Steve got onto me a little - why would you play from memory and have these little mistakes all over your performance that make it impossible to use complete movements for CDs? A demo or even just a little clip does have to be perfect, because it's so easy to judge a recording on the basis of mistakes. I do it myself.

I have made studio recordings, and I have listened to plenty of CDs and recordings of famous and less famous musicians playing great works of the repertoire. The CD recordings are amazing, but there's something a little unreal about the level of perfection that is attainable on a disc. I have been on recording sessions enough to know that you really only have to play each note correctly once. It is so easy with the technology these days for anyone to make a "perfect" performance of a piece. All it takes is time and know-how, and while I don't want to take anything away from that process, it is not necessarily a realistic depiction of the way someone actually plays or performs.

For me, though, playing live is such a different experience from that. It's not that I don't notice the little inconsistencies that creep in, and it's not that I think they're OK. It's that in the moment there is not time to worry about them. Paying attention to mistakes is a sure way to make more and more of them, and more useful is to look at the big picture and at the next thing coming - the phrase I'm turning, the passagework in progress, the idiosyncrasies of the reed and, most importantly, what I need to do to keep giving the audience what they need to enjoy the piece. The energy between performer and audience is such a delicate balance, and happens at only one moment in time. Worrying about objective perfection at that moment, it seems to me, takes away from the immediate experience. It's the same way I feel watching someone with a camcorder obsessively documenting a vacation. You may have a great record of your event to look back at later, but aren't you missing the essential experience that is going on RIGHT NOW?

So when Steve calls me on performing from memory, I want to argue with him. And I'm not positive that I'm on the correct side. It is important to play well. We always need to choose the high road, and strive to learn the music as deeply as necessary to play exquisitely, and not accept errors born of insufficient practice or of carelessness. But if I'm giving a live performance, my responsibility is to the audience, not to the recording engineers and not to my ultimate archive of tracks. And if I can deliver the music better, in a more exciting and unfettered way, without a music stand blocking the audience's access to me, or if in visually showing my phrase or characterization I accidentally miss an attack or a slur, does that detract THAT MUCH from their immediate experience? Would anyone prefer to have me tied to a stand and delivering a stony cold version of flawless? I can do that, but I prefer the intimacy and freedom and, yes, enjoyment, of discovering a piece of music right along with them, or perhaps I should say bringing them along with me in discovering the work.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Discouraging Words

I can remember at least two old cranky violinists coming to talk to young me about NOT going into music.  There was a session, for example, during a Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra retreat in which a real RPO professional (who was probably 47 but whom I remember as ancient) told us that, statistically, no one who graduates from music school wins auditions for jobs because there are only like 4 jobs out there in the world and 7000 hotshots coming into the job market every week. 

Quit NOW. 

I may have misremembered the details of this speech, but I remember the emotional jolt.  It was designed to discourage.

Last weekend I was presenting at a Double Reed Festival, and heard some oboists grumbling about another presenter who had evidently given something of the same talk to a roomful of masterclass attendees and participants.  High school students and cheerful adult amateurs.

And look, there's an element of truth to this.  Classical music is not a growing field, and it is leg…

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

We took a vacation this summer.This is not news to anyone in my life - anyone who knows me or especially Steve on Facebook followed along with all of our pictures.We took our travel trailer out to Arizona - via St Louis, Tulsa, Amarillo, Roswell, Santa Fe - and then stayed a week in Clarksdale and Flagstaff and visited some ancient pueblo ruins, Sedona, Jerome, the Lowell Observatory, the Grand Canyon.We swam in swimming pools, lakes, and icy mountain streams.We hiked.Eventually we came home again, via Albuquerque, Amarillo, Tulsa, and St Louis. (our inventiveness had somewhat worn out).After a week at home we took another trip, and drove to Vermont via western NY and the Adirondack Park (stayed an extra day to hike a mountain), lived four days in East Franklin VT, and came home via Catskill and eastern Ohio.
This vacation felt different from all of our previous ones.In the 21 years we’ve been married, I can name only one - maybe two trips we ever took that were not For Work or For …

Shaq and the Oboe

Here’s my FAVORITE thing about that Shaquille O'Neal video everyone's sharing this week - it’s how HAPPY he is playing this silly game and how little he CARES what the oboe actually SOUNDS LIKE or how to play it. 
Almost as if the oboe is not a giant obstacle to overcome.

Instead of focusing on the CRAFT of the instrument, the precise fingerings, the quality of the sound, the finesse of the vibrato - his focus is on DELIVERING the SONG.   It’s on COMMUNICATION, not perfection.


What a LIBERATING concept!


When I am playing my best, I find that I can surpass the STRUGGLE and come to a place where my focus is on communication.   I can sing through the instrument, and I can use that voice to reach out and find someone else.  This is really what being In the Zone means for me - it's when I don’t have to engage with the OBOE and instead can be generous with my VOICE for the audience.


I seek and strive for this Zone all the time - it’s the whole point of practicing! I practice long…