The most interesting comment I received after my Moveable Feast performance last night was not at all one that I expected. My sister said that her favorite thing to watch was the physicality of my breathing. I would calmly play long phrases, either taking small inhales and exhales or circular breathing, and then when I had a longer rest I would really breath hard. At those times, she said, it became obvious how difficult and aerobic the act of playing actually was, and it was all the more impressive when I would then grab a quick inhale and jump right back into playing long, controlled phrases.
I was a little embarrassed. I always strive to hide this side of things. The oboe playing should appear effortless, so as not to distract from the music-making. I don’t want the audience to know how hard I’m working, or to see me get all hot and bothered. I consciously try not to gasp or show visible strain. But it’s also the case that I respect the physicality of other instrumentalists and athletes tremendously.
I’m fascinated by how much a string player has to lean and use the full weight of his body to produce an intense sound. I love watching a pianist sink her arm into the keys, all the way to the shoulder. I can’t get enough of watching ballet dancers and figure skaters for the shifts in weight and balance that tell me that secretly they are working incredibly hard to be so buoyant, effortless, and beautiful. When from the orchestra pit I can see the Sugar Plum Fairy panting as she sinks into her deep final curtsey and graciously acknowledges the audience’s applause, I have even more respect for what she has just done, and by extension I love the human body all the more. It is amazing what we can do, and amazing to see what serious training can produce in someone.
So I’m not squirming any more about my sister’s remark. There’s no real shame in having a human body that requires oxygen. I will always continue to strive for an appearance of ease, but if you can see through the cracks, I won’t feel bad.
One more performance of A Moveable Feast! Tomorrow afternoon in South Bend. Details HERE.