Another First Date With My Wife
My wife and I went on a date a couple of weeks ago. We’d been overwhelmed with kids, work, and life, and had been arguing lately. I got panicky: “What do I do if this brief but important social time we have together ends up being awful?”
I calmed myself down. I told myself, “The longer I stay married, the more every date is going to have to be the first date.” And that’s how I approached the evening.
We’ve been married twenty years. But that night I stopped taking it for granted that I “knew” her. I stopped assuming she’d be okay with any unpleasantness from me.
We had a nice date. It was a little scary, being courteous, looking her in the eye, smiling, risking her mockery at my overly polite behavior, asking me what I was doing, shutting me down. But she didn’t.
In music, the hardest thing for a performer to do is bring genuine life to a performance. “Perfecting” a piece is hard, sure enough, and takes enormous time, work and skill. But when the piece is “ready,” it has to sound spontaneous.
Audiences really can tell the difference between a stale, lifeless performance and one that has a feeling of spontaneity and musicality. They may not always be able to articulate the difference they’re hearing, or they may be too polite or insecure to say so, but they can feel it. No one is going to last for long giving lifeless performances.
But the more you play, especially if you’re playing the same pieces year after year, the harder such spontaneity is. It’s like that 200th date with my wife. You know well before you get to the B-section what you’re going to say.
It helps to stay present to the moment while you play. Catch yourself making assumptions about the piece and question them. You can treat it like it’s the first performance.
But that’s risky. What if you forget what you know and mess up? What if you take the leap and the audience no longer likes the parts of the music they always liked before?
Well, playing it safe may work for a while, but the long-term risks are significant. Over time you may lose the capacity to surprise yourself, even when you want to. Then you might get so sick of what you’re doing that you actually undermine yourself, the result being a bad performance.
Can you really pretend it’s the first performance? No, but if you look for the person you were when you played it the first time, you might find them. You might also decide you like that person, and even miss them.
How do you keep yourself from just going through the motions when you present or perform? Does this apply to other aspects of your life besides your presentation skills? I’d love to hear from you, even if I asked you all of these things before!
News From a Jazz Musician Who Writes Books
This week you can read my recommendation on a great book for authors. See the "Press" Tab for the latest article in Horror Tree.
One of my readers was kind enough to inform me that the link I posted to my song, "What Doesn't Heal You" didn't work. Here it is again, and it's working now: http://www.acole.net/songs/s/what_doesnt_heal_you_album_track To listen, cut and paste into your browser.
Adam Cole is a Jazz Musician Who Writes Books. Author, educator and performer, Adam chats weekly on the subject of listening, creativity and living your best life. To take a quiz on what kind of music warrior you are, please visit www.mymusicfriend.net