Think about the greatest, most engaging musical performances you’ve seen. What was so magical about them? Is this ‘magic’ the possession of only a few musicians or can you have it too? Will you be able to engage an audience if you can play really fast and impress them with technique? How can you be as good as those you admire?
When I watch or listen to a great musical performance, I am drawn into another world. I am lost in story and space, totally enraptured, clinging to each note and to each silence. I feel alive and connected to the music. It becomes me. Not only have I felt this with great musical technicians but the not-so-technical musicians as well.
I believe everyone is capable of expressing great music or art, but in order to do so we need to practice creating a space for ourselves which enables greatness to come to the fore. This means developing the ability to live in the present. For example, when you do the washing up, are you paying attention to the feeling of warm water, the motion of the dishcloth, the sounds of your environment, the air? Or are you thinking about what you have to do in the future or what happened in the past or a plethora of other mental activities?
It is not easy to live in the present and in order to do so you need to be constantly aware of your mental activity. One book I read recently was “The Power of Now” by Ekkhart Tolle. I found just reading a page would help me to feel calmer and more in touch with myself and helped me to be “here now”. I reflected on my music and what I really wanted from it and found that when I applied some of the strategies mentioned in the book, my practice became an activity I looked forward to every day because it offered me peace, a kind of meditation and increasingly I became less interested in ‘being a good musician’ like the one I saw in a wedding band in Melbourne (which really took the pressure off!) and discovered the music within.
This meant I became more involved in every sound and the beauty of just one note ringing out, I began to listen more and because of that have become more present in my practice. Coincidentally, the more this happened, the more ‘progress’ or ‘better’ musician I became. But progress felt effortless because it wasn’t important to me any more. I practice music because I love to become lost in the metronome and the vibration, I love the sound of the piano, the feeling of my fingers working the keys as they press them down, I love the feeling of my voice in my body and the simplicity of sound, the awareness and presentness it brings to my life. Now, I know I will always practice music.
The first twenty years of my music history was not this. It was filled with emotional turmoil, wanting to be as good as…… but not being that. Wanting the best gigs, but not having them…. Wanting to be famous, respected, known. The pressure I put myself under was immense and because of it I couldn’t even feel what music really was, in fact, I just stopped and didn’t even want to see live music or even listen to it because it reminded me of everything I was not and everything I wanted to achieve but felt I couldn’t. Now I know, that this was not the experience of participating in music but rather the experience of indulging my Ego, letting it control a part of my life where it most definitely didn’t belong because (and I’ll let you in on a little secret here), the Ego is a terrible musician, although thinks it is rather amazing!
I am not trashing the Ego. We need it for all sorts of things in music and in our day, all I’m saying is Ego cannot play the music. Your music needs to come from your still and ever-present Self. This means when you play as scale, you need to be listening intently to every note you hit. You need to be in tune with your body and breath, you need to be relaxed. You need to be present. If you practice presentness, it will be easy to perform from this state and no matter what your technical ability is, your performance will be great.
It is worth asking yourself where your music is coming from. If it is coming from your truest Self, I am guessing you are pretty happy with what is happening musically for you. If you are not very happy with the way things are going… is it because your Ego is too involved?
There is much to be explored in these questions and I hope to expand on this in later blogs. Please feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to hear what you think.