I came home from work the other day, and discovered Wendy asleep in front of the TV, surrounded by cats. This in itself was pretty entertaining, but she quickly woke up. The TV was tuned to a random station, and on it, Oprah was showing off some “talented kids.”
One of the kids was a 13-year-old violinist who stood up and performed Pablo de Sarasate’s mind-bendingly difficult and flamboyant “Gypsy Airs.” This kid was good. Really really good. Sarasate is challenging for full-time professional violinists, so to have a 13-year-old kid playing it is extraordinary.
More than that, though, I watched his movements and facial expressions, and somewhat surprisingly, I recognized them. First came the studious brow furrow as the song started and then after a few moments into the piece, the ever-familiar thousand-yard stare of an enraptured soloist.
Wendy noticed this too. “He’s somewhere else now, isn’t he?” she asked.
He finished up a nearly flawless performance and the crowd went nuts, and Oprah walked over to condescend to him for a bit. Wendy asked just what goes through your mind when you’re performing.
Well, that’s a good question, innit?
It must’ve been, because Oprah asked the kid the same thing.
It’s weird and hard to explain. Performing on the violin (back when I was, you know, good) and to a lesser extent performing with the band is entirely like anything else I do, mentally. If you’ve ever heard someone get hyperbolic about being “lost in a moment” well, that’s the kind of thing they’re referring to. It’s this weird combination of complete calm and a laserlike focus – and when you do it right, you don’t think about what you just did, or what you’re about to do, you think about what you’re doing right then and there. You’ve practiced this, you know this inside and out, you know almost instinctually what’s going to happen next, and you know what adjustments you need to make for intonation, tempo, expression just sort of reflexively.
I’ve discovered that the moment you break that concentration to think “oh crap I just missed that note” or “there’s a hard part coming up” – that’s when you make mistakes and your performance can go pear-shaped.
With the band, the focus is a little more spread out, partially due to the fact that there’s more to worry about with technology and mixes and all that, and partially because nothing I write is going to be as technically or emotionally challenging as “Partita No. II in d”. Every once in a while, though, I can feel that state creeping in and that’s when I know that yes, this is a good performance, and I’m on the right track. I don’t know if the audience sees it that way, or perhaps they just see a singer suddenly go glassy-eyed onstage and assume some rockstar-wannabe drug habit has just kicked in.
Whatever. It’s such a strange and interesting feeling.