Perspectives on Performance – Finding the Spiritual in the Visceral

Different musicians have different approaches to performances, and how one approaches performance can say quite a bit about how one views music. Many of the musicians I have worked with have a more blue-collar approach and perspective. They do care about music very much, and it is their passion in life, but they approach the gig in the same manner as one would go to work. You arrive, set up, maybe socialize or get something to eat before starting, and when start time arrives, you go up and go to work. This is a very common approach, and is one that gets the job done while maintaining a level of professionalism and decorum. You’ve been hired to perform a service, and you deliver that service just as anyone would in any business relationship. It does employ your creative energies and specific skills, and you do get something more from it than the money, but it’s a job. There are also many musicians out there who carry a somewhat different perspective and approach to their performances. Most of these individuals tend to move in a higher skill set and mental attitude toward their profession than the usual bar band mien.

For these musicians, and while this is more common in classically trained circles it does extend to higher level musicians in most genres, each performance is a significant event that requires spiritual, emotional and mental connection and preparation going into the performance. The musicians prepare themselves as if they are performing a sacred duty, often following pre-performance rituals such as meditation, stretching, and centering prior to the performance. Every performance, regardless of the venue, audience, or any other venue is of equal importance and requires total focus and 100% dedication to giving the best possible delivery of the music to the audience that the performer is capable of rendering. There is an element of love and respect for the medium that goes into the preparations and intent behind this perspective that infuses the experience with a deeper seated meaning, making each performance an event in the performers’ lives as well as, hopefully, the audiences’.

From this type of perspective, each performance is both carried in the actual moment of the performance but also into the hearts and memories of all present, and if it is a successful moment, then it will be carried for years by those on the receiving end. It’s not over with the last note of the night. It nurtures the souls of the performers and the audience, leaving both better than they were prior to the performance and with the sense that life is best lived when one has the opportunity to have a long succession of such fulfilling experiences. For this type of musician, it’s not simply an evening of work, enjoyment, and some cash at the end of the night, though it is that as well, hopefully, but rather a fulfillment of their purpose in walking the planet and extending that relationship to whomsoever is willing to take the journey along beside them.

From the blue-collar working band performance perspective this train of thought might be met with a defensive perspective that the other approach is just a bunch of romantic drivel. So you have a performance, get over it and on to the next one. But herein lies the rub, why are you doing this? What are you getting out of it, and wouldn’t you like to get more than you are? One of the reasons for the difference in perspectives does lie in the types of performance situations the players find themselves in. Most classical and higher level popular genre performers are doing their jobs in venues that cater to specifically music. People go to these places solely for the music and with the intent of giving their focused attention to the performances. They’re not going to dance, meet and talk with friends, or find someone to go home with. They’re not going to drink away their troubles, worries, and concerns, nor are they going to watch their favorite teams on the big screens while the bands are doing what they can to garner their attention. They are there for one reason only, for your performance and the music you are presenting to them, for them.

How we go about things as performers does have an impact on the outcome and so do our expectations and perspectives on things. If you are happy and content as things as they are do you need to change your approach? Not if you are truly content and desire what you are reaping from your performances. For many years I have been performing with bands and musicians who have the more blue-collar approach to performance. They have a definite passion for music, and they do well with what they do, but it is definitely a more informal perspective on making music than what I encountered so many years ago at the conservatory. In some ways this has led me to experience more freedom, specifically from performance anxiety, and has led to some risk taking that I wouldn’t have taken in a classically oriented situation. For the last two years I have been straddling both worlds and have been encountering both perspectives on a more regular basis. This has led me to reconsider the approach to performance that I want to take because if the medium is my passion, shouldn’t I dedicate myself to presenting it in the best manner I can every time I perform? Doesn’t it deserve my full focused attention and abilities? How one approaches something often dictates what one gets or achieves from the experience. Go beyond the immediate, and look to the world.

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