As per usual, it’s been a while since I’ve made a point to write something longer than the routine and somewhat mundane things over Twitter. I often end up thinking about writing, but something ends up distracting me. There’s not a huge lot to say, but enough has happened that I feel it’s only right to write a little about it.
In general, I’d say that this past year has gone rather well. Yes, there were some hardships. Yes, there were some lows. There were highs to make up for each and every one of the lows, though, which is why I say that this year could not have gone any better. That’s about as much as you’re going to get regarding an end of year review.
I wanted to talk briefly about my last performance, which took place on the fourth of November. It was the kind of performance that left me thinking; not just about if it had gone well or not, but about some interesting things that I could perhaps teach.
Despite the near train wreck that happened due to my sad lack of focus during the duet with my good friend Susan Goodfellow, the whole performance went really well. Afterward, people were lined up to speak with me, my accompanists, and of course Susan, the other flutist with whom I chose to play the duo. There were two comments that I have been thinking about off and on as of late for the past little while.
One lady came up to me and spoke in a rather soft, almost demure way. While I don’t remember the words she said, I remember the meaning. Basically, she told me that she could see the spirits which had come to hear me play. I must admit, I almost laughed outright because I was not certain I had heard her right. Then, I was taken with a feeling of “yeah right,” and I am really hoping it didn’t show on my face. She continued a bit longer and the meaning finally took hold.
I have no idea if she had actually seen the spirits of other musicians that had come to hear me play. I do know, however, that I had accomplished one of my goals. I had hoped to be able to portray a particular feeling with each piece. I believe that this young lady was telling me in her own way that I was able to bring positive energy into the room, that my performance was something that would’ve lifted the dispirited, the depressed, etc. It is somewhat difficult to put into words… but I believe you understand. You can always comment on these posts if you don’t understand something, you know. *chuckles*
The second comment was more concrete, but held no less meaning. This young lady spoke confidently, but I detected a slight tremor in her tone, as if she were on the verge of tears. She was able to collect herself as she spoke, and I couldn’t help smiling as my second biggest worry was put to rest.
She told me that she was able to hear a difference in every single note, a difference which made even the repeated notes have a spirit—a personality—of their own. Now, I have heard so many musicians try to teach their students this. It’s so easy to turn to someone and say to them, “”Make every note have its own emotion. Make every note sing,” etc. The problem is that no matter how you say it, you really won’t be able to get the point across with words. You can certainly play a passage and have your student copy you, but he won’t actually feel it and so the copied nuances in each phrase sound hallow, not quite right to the ear… It’s sort of like showing someone how to smile and then asking them to smile on demand and make it look sincere. I don’t know of anyone who has smiled for a picture and actually liked the way they looked… because their smile seemed canned, or hollow. The emotion in pictures with posed smiles just isn’t there because everybody’s nervous, or doesn’t really like having their pictures taken. The only way to really get a good, sincere smile in a photograph is to catch a person unaware. Catch them laugh before you click the camera.
When I was younger, between ages fourteen and sixteen, I would play and think I was putting plenty of emotion into my music. I’d follow the dynamics, but the music still sounded flat to those who heard it, particularly my father, who was the one to help me visualize how to make more subtle nuances. We worked on it for two years at least, before something inside me clicked. In other words, you can show a student all you want on how to play with feeling and emotion. In fact, I recommend that you do, because it will give them a spring board for whenever that “something” decides to click with them as well.
I was not able to play with proper emotion, however, until I allowed myself to truly feel whatever it was that the music was portraying, if not my own simple emotions from whatever was on my mind. “Playing with emotion” isn’t just following the dynamics on the page. It’s letting yourself fall into your own emotions and letting those emotions come out in every note. An actor cannot properly play a part unless he is feeling the emotions of the character. A bad actor is simply “following the dynamics on the page” and so his words and actions are flat, or they just don’t seem to have a natural cadence to them. The actors that people label as outstanding will allow themselves to laugh, cry, and even tremble in anger along with their characters. How else would they be able to play the part without seeming unnatural or flat??
The concert last November was a confirmation that I am right where I need to be with my emotional technique. Instead of regretting my inability to act and properly portray emotion with the opera singers, I have found that I can show every bit of emotion through playing my flute. The portal to emotions is most likely different for every person. Some visualize stories to each piece they play, others focus on something in the room before they can let go, while still others may simply visualize colors with their music. I usually end up imagining communication between two people. Sometimes it’s spoken, others it’s more physical. Either way, the communication is usually between me and my fantasy lover. I know that sounds kind of dramatic, but that’s what always ends up happening.
I remember reading in a book somewhere. There was one scene that stuck in my head. I don’t even remember what the book was about, and I don’t remember what words were said—at least, not exactly. I remember reading that someone was listening to somebody else play the violin from a distance. The writer spoke of silver threads, gold, diamonds, and moonbeams when referring to the sound of the instrument itself. Regarding the style of the person’s playing, the writer used phrases like “…each note like a lover’s caress…” Words like “tremulous” and “shimmering” were used, as well as words that—to me—described the steps to a ballet: “light,” “airy,” “delicate.”
Somehow reading those words made me think of how I would feel in each situation those words were referring to, and I asked myself if I had the ability to make my listeners feel that very same way, just by playing my flute, like the person in the book had been playing his violin. The answer is yes, I do have the ability. Last November confirmed it. I was able to keep my audience away, despite the fact that I had been playing classical music, which puts people to sleep most of the time. When the young lady came up to me and told me that “every note had its own personality,” it made me think not just of how emotionally powerful music can be, but also how much emotion you need to actually let yourself feel in order to invoke those emotional responses in your audience.
Well, so much for being brief, eh? I realize that I may have repeated myself a lot, and that my words tend to run away with me sometimes, but you can always comment and ask me to clarify things if you don’t understand something. I know I could probably be a bit more concise with the way I word things, but until somebody tells me they are completely unclear on what I’ve written, I’ll keep writing as I have been. I usually don’t plan ahead on what I’m going to write about, and the words in my head just sort of tumble out onto the printed page. It’s not like I’m writing to my professional contacts, right? This blog here is to show some of my thought patterns and odd personality quirks, while giving people things to either think over or laugh at. In other words, I am much better at portraying emotions through my flute than through the written word… ah well, here it is anyway! With that said, constant readers, I shall close here, and hope this post has found you well. Here’s to individuality, and the New Year.