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COMMUNICATING Through the Mask

I was just trying to pick up my kid’s prescription at the pharmacy.


Between the mask covering half my face and the plexiglass barrier, I was almost reduced to charades as I tried to communicate a simple order.  

And we’ve all discovered this lately, I’m sure.  When you are wearing a mask and trying to speak with someone else, you have to enunciate MUCH more than normal.  You have to slow down and say all of the words distinctly.  You might have to rephrase, to use more distinctive sounding words.  Expressive eyebrows are helpful.  It takes EFFORT to communicate in this age of COVID.

But you know what? We HAVE this skill already.  As performers, we know what it is to have to heighten our affect and PROJECT our intentions beyond our bodies.  We know that although we FEEL the music deeply within ourselves, that feeling doesn’t necessarily translate to an audience unless we SEND it there. 

Practicing in my room, I can mumble.  I can let the work I’m doing with my fingers and tongue in a technical passage be the only thing I care about, or can gloss over the “boring” parts that I already know.  I can let the dynamics all be relative, all sort of related to MF, if my focus is not on them. 

But once I’m in front of an audience, whether that’s in a formal hall (remember those?) or a classroom (right?) or even just in front of Zoom demonstrating something for a student or giving a livestream recital - once I’m performing for someone else, it’s no longer about me. It’s about COMMUNICATION. 

It takes real energy to get your musical ideas OUT of your body, THROUGH the oboe, and ACROSS space TO another person.  At the best of times this is difficult - I used to say things in lessons like, “I see a diminuendo on the page, and I SORT of even heard it.  But I’m sitting five feet from you, I’m looking at the music, and I’m being paid to give you my undivided attention right now.  Would anyone else have believed you did it?”  

Now I say things like, “Zoom is weird, and if you tell me you did a huge exaggerated dynamic change between that Forte and that Piano I will take you at your word.  But I sure didn’t hear it.  Can you make me believe in your dynamic plan?”   And you know what? They can.  Zoom IS weird, but you can communicate through it, it just takes more energy than you expect. 

And this is the point.  We’re not in a normal time right now, but the lessons we’re learning from performing and teaching on line AND from striving for connection in a locked down world can take us forward into the future.  Push yourself to reach out harder, to communicate better. Might we emerge from this time as MORE GENEROUS PERFORMERS? 

It’s just like speaking through a mask. Put extra energy into your communication style these days - and put that extra energy into performing on your instrument, always!  

The musical connection, the HUMAN connection? It's WORTH the effort.  


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