Sunday, January 31, 2010

Performance and Focus

I promised myself I would try to put some meaning and description to the part of my life that has been "on stage".  As a church organist, I know that people feel that the religious realm plays an important part of performance, however, I don't think so.  If your body and mind are not prepared for making sounds that people won't mind listening to, no higher order is going to bail you out.  

Here's a story from my past:  About 20 years ago, I was an accompanist for the church choir in the church where I grew up. Going back home as a "musician" isn't always easy. Everyone saw you as a child, and all those cute little hiccups that happen during church can be overlooked because "she's so cute, only 5 years old..." Now you have to be cool and proficient. The unthinkable happened: A veteran choir member died, a popular school administrator/teacher, someone who crossed into numerous areas of cultures and someone who had touched thousands of lives. The memorial service was a joyful one, attendance was double the firecode for the building, and there was more emotion than I was prepared for. We, in the chancel, were weeping and hardly able to breathe listening to people tell stories of his life and (BAM) the choir stood up, I sat at the piano, and we performed. I had no idea of the focus that is involved in performance and the focus I was capable of until that evening. No tears, no emotion, just music and focus. Some may say "hard-hearted", but you can't make yourself understood if you are in an emotional state, and somehow I was able to transport myself to the place where music happens.  Now I do it all the time.

Every Sunday I show up at 8 AM and if I've done my work in the week before, I'll be all smiles at noon.  The choir will file out and cheerfully greet me with a nod or kind word and all is right in the world. (I'll be hammering away at some cute little Bach piece...Eiyyy! Here comes the pedal melody! Don't take your eyes off the music now... Sorry, folks, I can't reply to that last remark: "How did we sound this morning?")  It takes preparation:  I have to be familiar with the order of the program,(You've got to be kidding! The prayer is ALWAYS followed by the offertory!) and I have to have particularly funny passages under my fingertips;  in some cases I've memorized certain chords or passages so I don't rely on the printed page. (Ab minor! Is this a joke?) I have to know where my printed pages are, too!  They don't automatically show up on the piano or organ desk...(How embarrassing is that? I KNOW I put my music on the piano just 20 minutes ago, yet...Nevermind, I'll grab someone's music and "they" can share. Awk! They have some stupid "choral edition" without my part in it. Doomed: "You, entire church congregation of 150 people plus 30 choir members, and 1/2 dozen clergy, TALK amongst yourselves while I tiptoe out and race down the hallway, up the stairs and back again so we can continue." I'll never know what they "talked about", will I?) Sometimes I think it should appear!  That will be the ultimate tech world where I sit down, push a button or two, and my music appears...  I'm not a fan of the tech world; so far, too many disappointments with glitches which can REALLY be stressful. (How many times has the screen gone blank of words, or an electronic squawk has sent people clapping their hands over their ears, dropping all else?) And finally, I have to be ready for anything! (And how close have I come to touching those keys that will make everyone stand up only to hear: "At this time we ask Jim and Donna to come forward with baby Tara for baptism.") There are many people involved in the service, and I believe it's my job to make everyone look good, and make a pleasant experience, if not an inspiration.

My husband is a great trumpet player, performer, musician and teacher. He's amazing! And he knows what he has to do to make it happen. Often he excuses himself for weeks before a known "triple-tongue" measure is going to occur, and I know exactly what to do. Give him space to do his thing. Even though people say he has a big ego, and he knows he's good, they don't know the preparation, the lead-up, the stress and pressure of that moment, and the need to hear the remarks afterwards. The biggest and most meaningful comments come from fellow musicians.  We both take pride in it, and enjoy it.

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