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 about 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.]