After my first public recital at college, I wrote home to say how disappointed I was. The audience had been small and it seemed almost meaningless to have spent all those hours in the practice room just to perform to a few people.
In her reply to me, my very wise mother said something that has stayed with me till today.
If even one person has enjoyed or understood my performance, I would have succeeded.The Chinese has a term for such a person: zhiyin. The first character, "zhi" means "know" and the second, "yin "means "music" or "sound." Someone who is a zhiyin, in its literal sense, is someone who knows your voice, your sound, your music.
As a performer, It is not possible to know how a performance affects anyone. I don't know if, in all my years of performing, I have found any zhiyin, but the notion that such a person could exist has definitely given me a much better attitude toward performing.
An elderly gentleman used to frequent the lunch-time recitals of my conservatory. I didn't know him, but he was almost always at my recitals. As part of my psyche-myself-up-to-perform routine, I would imagine him as a zhiyin.
Initially, the thought helped focus my intentions. As the years went on, as I became increasingly frustrated by the seemingly arbitrary judging by the professors based on obstinate ideas about how certain pieces should be performed--Bach should never be played with the damper pedal, there should be no rubato in Mozart, and the only way to achieve the effect Debussy wanted was by using the sostenuto pedal (the one in the middle on a grand piano) and no other way--that I eventually gave up being the compliant and correct student because, first of all, I couldn't keep straight which professor held which opinion, and I really didn't want to perform within such narrow parameters.
So in my last year at the conservatory, when I employed subtle rubato in Mozart or used the damper pedal in Bach, I would direct the performance toward the gentleman, and imagined that he understood what I was trying to do musically.
Maybe a person should only write for herself. But I have to admit that one of the purposes of my writing is to share something of myself with others. Otherwise I would not seek publication and I would not need this blog. I may never reach a large audience with my writing, but the notion that a zhiyin could exist out there, who will "get" my writing, is a strong motivator.