Thursday, September 9, 2010

Musicspeak: our audience

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.


Laurel said...

I love this idea--writing for an audience who will know your voice and be moved by it. I found such a reader early on--a teen at church--and having her encouragement along the journey has kept me motivated when I've been tempted to give up.

Yat-Yee said...

That's so great that you actually found someone. You're right, sometimes that person can be the only reason to keep going.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

You've hit the right note with this post, Yat-Yee. I think the greatest reward for any artist is knowing somebody somewhere "got" it.
Here's a little anecdote: I participated in a little writing event at a bookstore. We each read the opening of a children's book we were writing. When I read mine, a young boy who'd stopped to listen in, jumped up and said he wanted to read that book. I was astounded. Now, every time I feel down about my writing I picture him and his enthusiasm. That helps motivate me to go on.

Yat-Yee said...

Tricia: what a great experience. I hope you never forget that little boy!

Corey Schwartz said...

Oh, what a lovely post, Yat-Yee. I'm glad your blogging hiatus is over :)

lotusgirl said...

I love the idea of zhiyin.


This post was an absolute treat to read--it has so many of the elements of great fiction: a hook, drama/conflict, a great set of characters, and access to new knowledge. I loved knowing about the zhiyin. I loved the poignancy of the gentleman who comes to the young woman's concerts. I loved the conflict with the teachers. I love the wisdom (and the love!) of the mother. I wish all blog posts I read were as entertaining and thoughtfully written as this.

Yat-Yee said...

Corey: Thanks. I am glad to be back.

Lois: Glad you enjoyed it.

Samuel: Thank you so much for your comments. I am touched and humbled.

Julie Dao said...

Beautifully said! I really loved this post and I hope that somewhere out there, someone will "get" my writing and understand me. I don't need to be wildly famous and successful (although I wouldn't say no to that if it happened - what writer would?), but if someone is impacted by my work, that's what I aim for.

Domey Malasarn said...

Yat-Yee, this is so beautiful, and I'm very glad to learn a term that first so well with what I am constantly searching for.

I might be wrong, but my feeling is that your zhiyin will find you only when you end up writing for yourself. They will hear YOUR voice because you are finally being you. That's what I have FINALLY started to strive for, and I think my writing is improving for it, even if my audience is getting smaller.

Cheryl Reif said...

I've LOVE this post and am very excited to read your future thoughts on how to meld the different parts of your creativity, music and writing. It's so great to have your posts show up in my reader again!