Cynic that I am, I generally cringe at successory-style sayings. I know they are meant to be inspirational, but after I’ve heard them the billionth time, they seem to lose their power. People repeat them, yet I think they’ve forgotten what they really mean. They become platitudes, and we all know how I like to skewer platitudes.
Saturday night my quartet played at a benefit dinner. We were making good on an auction commitment–the high bidder got a 45-minute performance. It was a private dinner, hosted by a lovely woman who was raising money for her church. We were there to provide background music during the cocktail hour.
The hurricane had wreaked havoc with our rehearsal schedule. We had played most of the material before, and had run the set three weeks prior, but only had one rehearsal the week of the event. I was still fighting some burnout and was in let’s-just-get-this-done-shall-we mode. We got there, set up, did a warmup and let ‘er rip.
People milled about the room, drinking and talking. It was hard for us to even hear each other. I’m used to playing in situations where we are in quiet rooms of people that are there to hear the music. Chamber music isn’t a huge draw, so the audience is generally made up of people who know the repertoire. They are watching you play. This was different. There was one gentleman on the sofa who was focused on listening, but everyone else was busy chatting and sipping wine.
I’ve never played better. I’ve never felt freer. The thought that went through my head was “Dance like no one is watching.” I was playing like no one was listening.
Usually I’m acutely aware of the energy of the audience and draw from it. I always say half of a great performance is a great audience. So what is it now, the other half of a great performance is no audience?
I think it comes back to this issue of judgement. Just as I’m learning to play without self-judgement, I need to play without assuming others are judging as well. I know there were plenty of mistakes. Because I assumed people couldn’t really hear them, they didn’t throw me off. When we finished, they gave us wonderful applause and compliments and said it made the evening unique and special, and I really think they meant it. So they must have been listening after all, and despite the mistakes, enjoyed it all the same.
So that platitude does actually hold meaning for me after all. Now if I could only cook like no one was eating.
Words by J. B. Everett
Photograph by Takeshi Kuboki © 2011 Creative Commons