A Moving Performance
I was recently at a festival where I saw a performance of a drumming group. An African Drumming expert was surrounded by other drummers of varying skill. My attention was caught by the profound difference between the way the leader played versus the rest of his ensemble.
Some of the drummers were beginners and their jerky, awkward movements betrayed this. Others were fairly good, and their movement showed the enjoyment of their playing, or even the attempt to convey artistry. However, there was something substantially different about the leader that separated him from his best players.
Each of his moves seemed to have its origin in his desire to produce a sound on his drum, rather than being a reflection of his emotions. In fact, he only moved in ways that made his drum sound better. Every twist and turn had a purpose, and it resulted in a particular sound.
I’ve seen this in certain fabulous pianists and even in martial artists who have been practicing for 30 or more years. It’s a perfected efficiency of intent. No energy is wasted…it all goes to producing the sound.
This is, in effect, what I believe my students should strive for. The artistic swaying of a “great artist” may serve to heighten the mood when it’s not a distraction. More often, however, it’s probably taking away the energy that should be going to the sound and putting it somewhere else.
This leads me to wonder whether such artists actually know what sounds they want, or whether they are hoping to convey something in spite of having no real ideas. A harsh judgment, I know, but I include myself in the criticism. Nothing is more difficult than to cut away what is not necessary…and that’s true of writing as well as music-making.
In fact, you could apply this kind of thinking to nearly every human endeavor from walking to eating. Do we fear a loss of connection if we fail to “emote,” or a loss of something we identify as ourselves? Only one way to discover how much of that we really need: look the issue square in the eye.
What is really necessary? Even more difficult, what do we really want? If we don’t know, that might be the first problem, and we likely can’t admit it!
I don’t believe great artistry is inborn. I do believe it’s incredibly difficult, and not for the technique alone but for the courage it requires. To walk into the world only with what is necessary requires a huge leap of faith and a certain amount of security (or the ability to be terrified all the time).
Can you relate? Or do you believe that I’m saying extraneous things? Please comment!