The other evening I went to an open mike in an area that I don't regularly frequent. in fact, I had never been to this open mike before and though there were a few faces I recognized most of the folks there I had never met before. Now, for some emerging artists this might make for an uncomfortable evening. But I don't look at it that way. For me, this is a "learning experience": I learn what to do as a songwriter and performer and what not to do. It's not about being critical of others, it's about learning what works and what doesn't. One performer asked the audience for a guest to sing a song they had not practiced together to perform it on stage. While I love serendipity, the song, though well known, is a complex one from the stand point of accompaniment and the guitarist was playing it in an altered tuning to boot! The result was both the singer and the guitarist (who asked for this impromptu combination) were struggling with each other and themselves. It was an uncomfortable event to watch.
But I learned something from this. It reminded me that one of the most important things a performer can do (indeed, must do) is make the audience feel at ease. I learned this original lesson from Livingston Taylor, whose book "Stage Performance" Ihighly recommend, in his classes on Stage Performance. The lesson learned here is not to intentionally put yourself in a position on stage that will leave you struggling and make the audience feel uncomfortable. Does this mean I don't endorse serendipity in performing? Of course not. But only that you are sufficiently prepared to handle it.
This leads me to to the idea that the overarching lesson is to maintain a "Learner's Mind" when it comes to watching other performers. Each performance has something to offer if you are sufficiently "open" to see it and understand it. It means figuring out why something a performer does works or doesn't work. This is part of the reason I go to open mikes I haven't been to before and why I am so excited about going to NERFA this year. More than getting possible new gigs or networking with other performers, I really hope to learn from all these other performers, both at the formal workshops and (more importantly) at the showcases. It is by maintaining this open, "Learner's Mind" that I hope to improve my own songwriting and performance skills. The Japanese word for an instructor in karate is "sensei", but the literal translation for the word means "one who has gone before". As emerging artists we should all cultivate the sense that everyone in our world is a sensei is one way or another by maintaining a "Learner's Mind".
Food for thought
Yours in DADGAD