Is our music a reflection of ourselves?
"Painting is self-discovery. Every good artist paints what he is" - Jackson Pollock
I have a traditional piano background myself, and while I was not entirely starved of improv exposure, I didn’t feel that it was genuinely developed. Meaning that I was taught to do it right! Not necessarily authentically.
Playing ‘right’ is a performance culture that inhibits many an attempt to really explore and discover who we are musically. This seems to be an experience shared by more than just myself. Many years ago I began to ask my students to play who they really were, right in that moment. Not surprisingly they found this very difficult. I realised that ‘self’-expression seemed to not be about who we are at all, but rather about who we think we should be…
Don't try to be someone else... that gig's already taken.
I recently attended a recital of a phenomenal performer. I didn't know who she was, but had heard of her world renowned reputation. What an honour to attend her concert. The music she played was incredible. So many notes, such poise and refined execution. It was a treat to watch. In fact as she played I shrank a little further with each bar, realising my own glaring inadequacies at being a concert performer or an accomplished musician like herself. After it was over I had a moment to wriggle back into my own space. I realised that I had not gained a connection with this pianist. From her performance, I could learn nothing of who she was as an artist or a person. But more than that, I did not marvel at the joy of feeling more alive because I had shared time with her. I was impressed, but not moved. I felt in awe, yet not inspired.
I recently attended a recital of a group of very young students. I didn't know who they were, but I knew they were very excited as they waited their turn. These children performed for us, spontaneously playing from their imagination. They had each prepared their own picture which we viewed while they played. This is a regular activity we teach called 'Play my Story'. One little girl had a cheeky personality and constantly gave us fresh giggles as her music danced around the keys. One piece was created by two boys... even though they were twins I reckon I know who was older because of the way the music led and followed. Then there was the young lady who played as if there was not another soul in the room. Her music reflected the personality of a friend who could listen to a whole conversation and then contribute that one exquisite thought, bringing with it peace and reassurance.
Who am I, musically, when no-one is listening?
May we be so genuinely authentic in our performance, so as to invite someone to share a little piece of who we are. May we have the opportunity to create our own musical story, not to merely imitate someone else's.