I was looking over my upcoming schedule today – a colleague is teaching a seminar at the SF Conservatory and wanted me to lead part of the discussion – and as I glanced over the last few months and the next few approaching ones, I realized something. I still have a gig in September that hasn’t yet been canceled. And if I end up doing it, it will have been six months since my last concert.
I know I’ve blogged about this previously, but this enormous gap was realized anew today as I stared at my schedule (something I generally try to avoid). I’ve had friends of friends tell me that I should treat this forced break like a much-needed sabbatical. I can’t tell you how much that frustrates me. The devastating financial fallout aside, for a musician to not be performing for so long – it’s like having a part of myself missing. Let me explain.
First, I want to dispel the notion that music-making is all about self-expression. Most of us professional musicians spend enough time preforming upbeat tunes when we’ve lost a beloved pet, or delicate melodies when we’re furious at the state of the world, or romantic works when we’re fighting with our partners, never mind the times we have to convincingly play a piece of music that we hate performing. Yes, music is expressive, but oftentimes we performers are expressing that music, not necessarily ourselves.
Rather, for me, it’s this: we as performers are accustomed to externalizing our internal energy. We draw upon our memories of joy, or love, or anger, or sorrow, and channel it through the creation of sound, the performance of music. So we are not just “expressing ourselves” in the moment; it’s more that we’re communicating our own thoughts and reactions and energies through music.
It’s this form of communication that I miss, the sense that I can get a point across, wordlessly, just through the gestures of my body that conjure the harmonies from the orchestra. To take an internal impulse – a thought, a feeling – and to find a way to translate that into the energy of a sound – it’s extraordinary. When I perform I’m literally saying to myself “Out, out, out!” (in a joyful, rather than banishing, way) – sending that spirit into the world, and feeling and watching its visceral effect on people.
And that’s not even touching upon the intense connections that I hold with musicians in front of me, the energy exchanged, the music shared.
When I stand on a podium, gather everything inside me and reveal it through motion to an orchestra, who in turn take in and reflect that energy into a packed hall – this is when I feel understood. This is when I feel known. This is when I feel most connected to humanity.
I’ve not had this for over 3 months now, and the thought of not experiencing that connection for another 3 months, probably more, is more painful than I can adequately explain.