Thursday, January 13, 2011

Musicspeak: recurring nightmares

Recurring nightmares: do you have them? Here are some of mine that are music-related:

I am waiting behind the curtain on stage, getting ready to perform to a full house and someone hands me a violin. (I am a pianist.)

I am seated at the piano on stage and suddenly realize I am to perform a Beethoven sonata that I learned 10 years ago and don't remember any more.

During a performance of a Mozart concerto,
I suddenly realize I have jumped from the 1st to the 3rd movement.

Wait.That last one actually happened.

(Pause for you to feel the horror of it.)

The good thing, if there was any good ab
out this sad situation, was that I was only a first year conservatory student, and while the recital was a public one, not many people were there. Also, I wasn't accompanied by an orchestra, but by my piano teacher playing the orchestral reduction on another piano. We fixed that problem quickly and I finished the rest of the recital without further problems (I think; I was on automatic gear after that and don't remember anything very well.)

I knew that piece backwards and forwards,
maybe even upside down. How could that have happened?

The audience, that's what.

Practicing alone in a practice room, playing to my teacher in his
studio, or even playing the piano on a empty stage were significantly different phenomena than performing on stage to an audience.

I was an inexperienced performer and did not know how to handle my heart beating a mile a minute, my hands frozen and sweating at the same time, my thoughts wandering all over the place. It was a miracle, really, that I didn't have more memory lapses.

My mother, if you remember from a previous post, was (and still is) a writer and while talking about this incident, remarked that the main difference between our chosen art forms was this: that a writer did not have to be present when her work was read whereas a musician performed to a live audience.

At the time, still smarting from this humiliating experience, I wished I was a writer, safely cocooned in my private writing world. No falling flat on my face in public, no fumbling with trouble passages for all the world to see, no having my work determined by one incident. I wondered why my mother seemed wistful.

As I grew as a performer, I understood my mother's envy. There is nothing quite like the energy in a room when you have a receptive audience. It is supremely gratifying to give something of yourself and feel the vibes of the audience who accepts it. There are very few things in life that compare to how alive I feel during those moments.

Now that I am spending more time writing than performing, I appreciate the more forgiving nature of writing. I don't have to produce great sentences on the spot. I can spend time with my words, polishing them before I present them to my audience. By the same token, I do miss the immediate feedback from my audience.

I am not sure where I stand in the spectrum of whether art is a form of communication and isn't quite complete until it's received, or it is a form of expression that stands on its own. Some days, playing a piece privately is enough; it is my very private expression, of gratitude, of sorrow, of joy, and I don't need nor want anyone around. Other days, I enjoy playing for people. Some of my writing remains my prayer and will never be seen but I can't wait to see what reaction some other stories will be met with.

Where do you stand? How do you view your art or the art of others? Did Picasso create only for himself? What if Glenn Gould never released his two versions of Goldberg Variations? What if Schumann performed all the songs he wrote the year he got married only for his beloved Clara? Are you curious about all the works of Dostoevsky or King we never get to read?

[Yes, I do realize that writing, in many ways, has become a much more public endeavor. A writer known only by her works is no longer the overwhelming norm. These days, we can, if we choose, to put our work out there for something like immediate feedback by the public. But I am staying clear of this tangent for now.]


C. N. Nevets said...

Some artists create art because there is simply a need in their soul that drives them to create and express, and that can be a solitary endeavor, though I think most folks at least want the validation of a few others. But I think art can be created in solitary.

That said, not all writers are artists first. Some are storytellers first. If that's the case, you have to have some kind of audience to tell your story to and you must, in some way, relate to them in order to be an effective storyteller.

I think, though, that there are lots of ways of designing and managing that relationship. I'd like to think there's an equivalent to getting an overall vibe from the faceless crowd and making eye contract with individuals for more intimate feedback, but I'm not quite sure yet what that is.

Yat-Yee said...

It's interesting that you brought up writers as storytellers first. And you're right. Without an audience, who would a story teller tell his stories to?

And if you ever find out how to get all the wonderful, intimate feedback without actually being in with people, let me know!

Simon C. Larter said...

I suppose I feel as though a piece of writing isn't complete until I've placed it somewhere--whether that be a charity anthology, an online journal, my blog, or some other venue. Readers make the piece complete.

I'd be lying if I said I'd still write even if no one read my stuff. I need some kind of feedback, some approbation to keep going. Oh, and also I need to have something to point out to my wife so she continues to allow me time to write in the evenings instead of working on the house. There's that, too....

Bish Denham said...

I've spent most of my life writing for myself. (Though I have to admit getting a few things in print is wonderful.) When I learned to play the guitar and wrote songs, I sang to myself only sharing a few songs with close friends,people I trusted. I sang in a jazz a trio for a while, but it wasn't the same as sharing my songs. I have yet to figure out if it's because they are personal, or because I'm shy, or because I'm not convinced they're any good (even though I KNOW some of them are better than what I've heard on the radio.) Whatever the reason, my songs, like my poems, are kept close to my heart. I haul them out every once in while and enjoy them, surprised that I can still remember the melodies. (I do not know how to read or write music. But then...neither does Stevie Wonder!)

storyqueen said...

This is such a thoughtful post. And I am not sure how I feel...

I guess I look at the creation of art and the performance of art as two intertwined, yet separate things.

I think when a writer is writing, or an artist painting (or sculpting or whatever) or a musician composing, it is sometimes hard to NOT think about the audience eventually, but that is exactly what they do. They just think about the art, the creation.

The difference lies in how the art is communicated towards others. Music MUST be performed somehow.
Art and Writing can be shared differently.

Great post.