New videos and a reflection on performance
I've finally gotten around to uploading a few videos to youtube of a recital I did in Dublin back in May 2017. You can find it on the videos page which I just recently redid! Most videos are from my early 20th century guitar music program I'll be uploading more when I get around to it. I was afforded the opportunity to perform this program a few times which is a luxury you rarely have in academia and it got me thinking about a few things. Before a recent GuitaRIAM concert I was asked if I get nervous before I perform if there was anything you could do to make yourself less nervous. It made me realize how closely nerves are tied to performance frequency. To set the record straight, I do get nervous, all the time and it never really stops. I've found though, and tend to hear from other musicians, that while nerves are almost always present, the severity at which they affect you depends largely on how many times you've performed a certain program or piece.
In academia we very rarely are given the opportunity to perform a program more than a handful of times and I find that to be a very destructive force for budding musicians. As we perform less our confidence and our relationship with the audience becomes under developed. In addition to this, if our audience remains the same we fail to appreciate the diversity of different types of listeners. An examiner will listen quite differently from a general audience, a guitarist will listen differently from a composer. By performing only for our teachers and in exams we hone a type of communication associated with wanting to be 'right.' We create a dialogue concerned with finding some type of technical or musical truth that might not exist in general and one that might not be of much concern to a general audience. More dangerously however, in this dialogue we end up communicating only from the position of a student, we create a performance profile not suited to perform, only one suited to instill knowledge on. Confidence and nerves come from feeling yourself objectified by the music learning process. You learn a role far removed from the one you aim to be striving for. Confidence then is less something you have and more something you do, something you have to practice in front of people. Something I see practiced very seldom (I know this first hand as anyone who knew me 2014-2016 could attest to.)
As I teach I constantly ask myself if I'm recreating some of the toxic mental environments I found myself performing under. The dialogue we as teachers create shouldn't just be concerned with honing a students technical and interpretive ability but should involve emboldening our students own communicative agency. As a student and budding performer it's up to us to hone this agency by performing as often as possible, for a variety of different people and settings. In this way we develop as a musically performing subject, not as an object who 'does' music. Anyone familiar with Paolo Freire should know his writing have had a huge influence on me, any allusion to his writing comes from Pedagogy of the Oppressed. This is I believe the most important aspect of learning music, developing as a musical subject. Musical subjects can engage in the kind of dialogue concerning musical 'truth' whatever that happens to be, not objects who are taught how to but never actually do. The trick is how do we enable the switch in consciousness from musical object to musical subject? Perhaps one way, is to give them experience, let them (perhaps make them!) perform, allow them to more fully enter the performing reality. By knowing this reality better they are more equipped to engage in a dialogue with an audience, and only through dialogue with an audience can they truly dwell (enact change) within the reality of the music they perform. Dwelling, entails a type of change, and only someone who views themselves a subject in an objectified world can dwell within that world. Bruce Ellis Benson's The Improvisation of Musical Dialogue is a fantastic book on this subject and my idea of dwelling comes from his readings of Heidegger's On the Origin of the Work of Art.
To lighten up before I finish, to go back to nerves and performance anxiety. This reminds me of a memorable quote from a notable Paraguayan guitarist in a master class. After a performance they asked the player how many times they have performed that particular piece. In response to the player's low answer guitarist smiled and said 'this piece for you is like a baby, you need to perform it more and more and let it grow.' My question is how old does that baby have to be before I can play without missing a note?!