You’ve worked out the music, overlooked no detail regarding the notes, the rhythms, the fingerings, the history, and the analysis of the piece. You have worked hard to ‘get the music under your fingers.’ Now, is the opportunity for you to share your vision of the music with yourself and others.
But for many, this sharing is an experience fraught with anxiety, misconceptions, fear, unrealistic expectations, in short, all manner of dysfunction. Would it help to label the experience demonstrating one’s work? Of, course, merely changing the label on the jar doesn’t change what’s in the jar, but words do have power and thinking about a problem in a different way may lead to new possibilities…
One cannot demonstrate work that has not been done, but one should be able to demonstrate work that has been done, though the ability to demonstrate that work does not come automatically. One step in the process is the practice of demonstrating one’s work, but here too, practice does not make perfect; practice makes permanent. I often remind my students, in order change the level of one’s work, one has to change the level of one’s practice; to change the level of one’s practice, one has to change the level of one’s thoughts; and to change the level of one’s thoughts, one has to change the questions one is asking…
Performers often employ meditation and relaxation techniques like deep breathing and body awareness to help calm their nerves and improve their focus; some use psychological conditioning to shape a more positive mental attitude, and no doubt, these methods can be and have been effective, but it has been my experience that these techniques often miss something important—the heart of the problem—a deeper question regarding the science of situation.
Solving this problem begins with understanding the changing roles of the mind’s relationship to the body. When one is working out a piece of music the relationship between the mind and the body is akin to that of teacher and student. The mind as teacher decides that it wants to play a piece of music. It then needs to understand all that needs to be known about how that music should sound. Then, it needs to translate all of that information into specific positions and movements in time that the body can understand—because the body is unable to directly understand the language of the mind—its concepts and ideas.
Positions and movements are the language of the body—get the body to do something a few times and it begins to remember. Once this is accomplished, the mind must relinquish its role as teacher and take on the role of conductor, but therein lies the problem, because the mind, having become habituated to and identified with its role as teacher, often finds it all but impossible to give up this role.
During a performance, a world-class conductor of a world-class orchestra never wonders if or whether the orchestra can play the music; instead, the conductor’s only concern is with communicating to the orchestra in the moment what it needs to do to in order to express the conductor’s vision of the music. It’s like the difference between learning how to drive a car and actually driving it. A competent driver does not continue to consider how to turn or brake or accelerate, the driver leaves that to the body while it concerns itself with the exigencies of the journey at hand. But in performance, if the mind begins to consider mistakes and mishaps, or starts to worry about what comes next, or how to do it, it is reverting to its role as teacher…
Of course it’s easy to say, “don’t think about your mistakes while playing, don’t worry or second guess yourself,” but this is easier said than done; because it is the nature of the mind to go to whatever it is told not to— tell it to not think about blue elephants and automatically, that is exactly what it will begin to do. And so, the more successful solution would be to deflect the mind, to get it to think about something else, like say, red elephants—because the more the mind becomes concentrated on red elephants, the less it will thinks about blue elephants. In this case, the red elephant is the musician’s vision and expression of the music.
So, the blue elephant is the state of the mind as teacher and the red elephant represents the state of the mind as conductor. Let’s examine what a conductor does. At first glance it may appear that the conductor’s actions/movements are in response to the orchestra, but, though simultaneous response is an important aspect of his role, his primary attention is to his vision—his musical vision—of the work he is conducting. In other words, the conductor must relate his inner world—his musical vision—to his outer world—the orchestra—and do it in the moment.
This relationship—this balance—of the conductor’s inner and the outer worlds is an act of attention that can be illustrated by a double arrow. One arrow of attention is pointed at the orchestra from his musical vision, while simultaneously, the second arrow of attention is pointed at the conductor’s musical vision from the orchestra, and this relationship is exactly what the soloist must achieve in performance—a relationship between his body as orchestra and his mind as conductor.
But to achieve this balance takes practice—the practice of sharing—and a fair amount of self-study as well—the study of one’s attention. It is work, but it is work that I have personally found to be very rewarding on many different levels. This I say, not as someone who has achieved the goal—perhaps some final goal can never be perfectly achieved—but as someone engaged in a musical and personal journey that becomes more and more interesting and enlightening with every step.
It is a journey that is different for everyone, but I would characterize it as a journey of love—and sharing love is what love life and music is all about. I have witnessed this love—this sharing—in the performances of the great maestro of the guitar, Andre Segovia. There was something different that I observed when we, the audience, left the concert hall at the end of his performances. Unlike many other concerts, I noticed that we were all generally much quieter and smiling a whole lot more.
Why? I believe that it had something to do with Segovia’s discipline, both as a musician and as a human being. I believe that his work was never about dominating the music, but about serving it. He mastered the music by serving it with love; it was a mastery in servitude, and when something is mastered through service and not the violence of domination, it is felt by all who are in the presence of it as something very unique and very special.
But, regarding this love manifested as disciplined service, what more can be said?
“For when the subject turned to love, pen broke and paper tore.” – The great mystical poet, Rumi.
So perhaps it would be best leave it here, because, as Rumi also said, “the tale of love, must be heard from love itself, for like the mirror, it is both mute and expressive!”
© Copyright, Michael Kovitz 2018