Thursday, January 21, 2016

Making the Piper Pay

"Performing is the price we pay to get to rehearse."

A friend said those words to me at a party the other night. Sure, I go to parties. Anyway, he's a very good recorder player with a beautiful collection of recorders, harpsichords, and a Baroque flute or two. He plays in recorder societies in Atlanta and sometimes Birmingham, and has participated in big-deal performances. He's a math professor, grows succulents, and used to play tuba and I think saxophone. He is a quiet person, and reserved. What he said fits him perfectly. He'd much rather rehearse with people for fun than perform for any reason.

It was funny to me, and after thinking about it for three seconds, also applicable. Until moving back home to Auburn, Alabama, I didn't have a history of seeking out performances. Though there's a college here, it's a small town in a rural area with a widely spread-out musical community. After a few months, I discovered that creating my own opportunities is far and above the best way to get gigs. After a few years, I've already gotten out of the habit. These days, I generally play only when I'm asked, and that's not terribly often.

The scene here covers a lot of real estate. So beating the bushes, networking among the people you want to play with, jamming, etc. means a lot of driving and being out late. I have a job. My wife has a job. Kids. Tired. Old. But my friend's comment suggests that it's likely not kidstiredold, though I don't want to give up on my best excuse for staying home and watching Elementary, even if you know who the killer is in the first ten minutes because it's always that one actor you know from something else.

Public performance is stressful for musicians. At least it is for those who are compulsive introverts. At least it is for this compulsive, introverted musician. Me. I mean me. It makes us vulnerable to criticism and embarrassment, it is intimate, frightening, expensive, staggeringly inconvenient, and easy to avoid. That last thing is especially true for those whose livelihood doesn't depend on it. But even when it is, in fact, a feed-your-family necessity, it can be easier to find something else to fill that need.

But like any risk, performance can have huge payoffs. First of all, it's where all the rehearsing and practicing gets locked in. It's where the clay pot you made gets fired, and not because it's the final step in the process. There's more to it than that. It's like when they put the magic hat on the snowman, and he comes alive and says, "Happy birthday!" And on a practical level, performance is where the turning points in a musician's career happen. It is also where we interact with humanity on an artistic level. And sure, a bad performance can fly your plane straight into the cold, hard earth, but those are rare, really, at least among people who have any business doing this at all.

So is it worth the cost? Hell, I don't know. And I don't even know if the question is relevant. For me, music seems to have its own consciousness. It has a momentum that drives itself toward public performance. It's the undertow everybody warns you about. Sure, the ocean's fun until you're a mile out and have to remember to swim parallel to the shore and punch sharks in the nose. But sometimes, when I'm there, it can be sublime, even transcendent. And other times, when it doesn't seem like much more than an hour or three of hard work, a bit of sincere audience feedback and/or a surprisingly good recording can make me forget what an ordeal it was.

I was happily surprised to hear my friend say what he did. It meant maybe I will get to hear him play more. In a couple weeks, it will be me performing, and aside from the normal stressors, it will be in a genre of music outside of my comfort zone. Its my own fault. I was the one who invited the people up here, and I was the one who suggested they do a couple of shows with a group I'm in. See what I mean? We'll rehearse once.

And that will be fun.

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