I want to talk today about why performance is so important for me as a musician. It’s not as selfish as it may appear from the outside—there’s actually a service aspect of this. Really!
From the outside, performing music may seem to some of you like a gloriously self-indulgent thing. While there are probably folks for whom this is true, I haven’t come across too many in my experience. Most folks that I’ve played with see performing music as a ‘calling’ of sorts—they are there to serve something bigger than themselves.
When I began my career change from corporate jobs to teaching and performing music, I was only focused on the teaching side of things. (I probably thought it was too self-indulgent myself. 😉 Performing came later, after some initial feelings of guilt–it’s seemed irresponsible to want to become a Rock star.
But not only does my teaching make my performances better and vice-versa; performing, for me, is also an act of service. It’s a way of sharing my music with my community of friends, fans and fellow musicians.
This is also true for my students—their performances at recitals are an important part of their learning process. I initially started scheduling recitals for my students just as a tool to get certain students more focused (nothing focuses a musicians mind more than an upcoming performance they don’t really feel ready for ;). Later, I saw just how important it was for my students to be sharing their music with others. It built their confidence and self-esteem, and also—through really focusing on their craft to get ready for a performance– made them better musicians.
But, there was something even bigger than that going on, though it’s hard to describe. When they start out initially, my students are people who practice at home and in their lessons with me. Therefore, their music was being shared with a few people (their family and I), but just a few, and I might have been the only one playing close attention. Good, but not yet great.
However, once they started performing at recitals, they were suddenly sharing their music with lots more folks—their own community of family friends and supporters (as well as those of the other students at the recital). And, I saw a notable change in how they carried themselves as musicians, which translated to the way they carried themselves as people.
What I felt was happening here was that at first, you’re sharing your music with a small number of people. Then, when you perform publicly, that equation changes fundamentally as you share your music with your community. You suddenly have way more people that you’re sharing music with. And, that act of service—the sharing of your music—changes your relationship not only with your craft as a musician, but also as a human being serving other humans through the sharing of music.
For me, performance turns all my music activity into a service for others, and not just something that’s for myself alone. There is a huge difference between the energy only coming from you alone (practicing at home) versus energy coming from lots of folks in the community (when you perform in public).
And if I was only practicing music at home? I would be cutting myself off from a large and important group–my community. This would also greatly reduce the positive feedback I get from sharing my music publicly.
This is relevant to everyone, whether you are an accountant, an NFL linebacker or a Rock star. It’s so easy in our culture to get cut off from the community that your craft or skill is benefiting. For accountants, it could be you have a corporate accounting job where you never come into contact with the people who benefit from all your work keeping track of the inflow and outflow of cash for a business. For an NFL linebacker it’s very easy to get cut off if you play in a huge stadium and have security around you all the time so you don’t get any one-on-one contact with your fan base. Same thing with the rockstar, if you’re playing in stadiums with the stage set up such that you’re not within 50 feet of any member of your audience.
So, I guess my message is this: no matter who you are or what you do, make sure you stay in contact with the community of folks who benefit from your work. Do this to remind yourself of the spirit behind the work you do, of the ‘pure intent’ behind everything we all do. (No matter what you do, there was a noble idea of pure intent that got the idea rolling no matter where we have since ended up ;).
If you work at the front desk for a mortgage broker, get out there and meet some first-time home buyers. If you work retail, volunteer at an agency that gets Christmas gifts to kids in need.
And…if you’re a musician, get out there and share your music with your community, however you define that. (Sharing online is OK, but I guarantee you that you will be happier if you do it person.)
If you figure how your vocation, job or ‘calling’ can become an act of service for others in you community, not only will you be a happier person, but lots of folks in your community will benefit as well. (And yeah, I think those two things are strongly related. 😉
Get out there, press the flesh if you have to. It may feel weird at first, but, in my experience, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.