The Struggle Between Me and the Audience

I harbor a secret that I suspect many emerging artist themselves secretly harbor. I generally don't talk about it because I view it as a daily struggle. It tends to come to the fore particularly when I perform at a gig. I know from both studying performance techniques of others and the instruction of great performance teachers like Livingston Taylor at Berklee College of Music, that the performing artist when performing must be entirely focused in the present moment on the members of the audience listening to him or her. I take this maxim or performance technique to heart and keep my eyes and my mind not on my hands or how I may look to the audience, but on each member of the audience itself. 

But this takes real effort on my part because I feel a constant tug in the back of my mind as I play to just close my eyes and focus on the music and how it makes me feel. This is my "terrible secret". I love to play music for its own sake even to the exclusion of those around me. When I "practice" my music alone, I am free to immerse myself in the "flow" of the music I create without the necessity of having to connect with members of the audience. This is the fundamental difference between just playing music and "performing" music. The difference between the internal music of the self and the external music of performance. And it's a bit of a struggle because the tendency to lose oneself in their music can be very addictive, a bit of a "siren song", if you'll pardon the pun.

This is not to say that performance is not enjoyable to me; to the contrary, I love to perform because the music becomes the medium by which I connect with members of the audience. But playing for oneself when they should be performing is really, to my mind a selfish, narcissistic pleasure, like savoring a piece of exquisite chocolate while refusing to share the experience with the person right in front of you. I clearly remember years ago going to Tanglewood to see Miles Davis perform. Throughout the performance, Davis despite being a truly great musician, would simply turn his back to the audience and just lose himself in his own music as if he was playing in his own living room. I rapidly became annoyed by this behavior and lost interest in his music because it became clear that he was not present for the benefit of his audience but really just to hear min self jam with his own band, the audience being of secondary importance. I resolved I would not do such a thing to my listeners.

I keep that event in the back of my mind now when I perform and use it to resist the temptation to just close my eyes and focus on the music and not the audience. Don't get me wrong, playing music well is a sine qua non for a solid performance, but its not enough. You must be with your audience in the moment of performance, that is the essential part of a good performance. It is when you can combine, balance really the virtues of both playing well and being in the moment with your listeners that the emerging artist can produce a great performance and connect with members of the audience.

Food for thought.

Yours in DADGAD

Rick Gottlieb

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