Stage Fright: Part Three
(18 Apr 03)
It's a Concert, Not a Contest
So far we have talked about what Stage Fright is, and what it isn't. We have looked at how it is done, and why it is done. We have seen that it is not something that happens to you, it is something you actually do. We have seen that it is just another form of People Fright, although a highly potent form.
Well, if Stage Fright is something we DO, I think we can all agree we would rather NOT do it. But how do we not do it? The answer may surprise you.
There is no way to not do it. Or more correctly, there is no way for "you" to not do it. There is no way for the "you" who does it to not do it.
There is, however, a way to go THROUGH it. There is a way to give birth to a new "you" who does something else instead.
The answer to our problem is to discover what it is we SHOULD be doing when we play music for other people, and then do THAT. And what we will find when we DO that, is that the Stage Fright thing STOPS.
In order to find out what it is we should be doing when we play music for other people, instead of doing Stage Fright, we need to look at a couple of things first. We need to consider a couple of questions.
One, what is music? Two, why does anyone want music in their life? Three, what are we really doing (or trying to do) when we listen to music, or play music for ourselves or for other people?
What is Music?
There are 3 kinds of people. First, the people that have no feeling for music at all, and whose lives would not be affected if there were no such thing as music in the world. I believe these kinds of people are very rare, and that they are similar to the kind of people who don't like dogs or little children, and the ones I have met always gave me the shivers. Personally, I don't think I have met many at all, in fact, only one or two, so I have to account for them here. I'm sure there must be more, I have just been lucky so far.
Second, there are the people to whom music makes a pleasant background to their daily activities. It's nice to have around, like a basket of plastic fruit on the kitchen table. I do know a number of people like this, but I try not to spend much time with them.
Thirdly, there are the people who recognize what music REALLY is. They recognize that music is the most potent form of MAGIC a human being is capable of making. They recognize that music not only expresses emotion, music is a tangible form OF emotion. Music IS emotion, it IS energy in motion, human energy, human FEELING emotional energy. That is why this third type of person not only likes music, not only loves music, they NEED music. Thankfully, I know lots of these people. You will find this type of person as what we call a professional musician, or as an amateur, it makes no difference.
There are many among this third group of people who recognize that music is DIVINE. If you are one of the people who like to use the word GOD to express your feelings about the ULTIMATE REALITY (as I do), then you may think of it, like me, as the voice of God.
When I was a teenager, listening one time to Beethoven's 9th symphony, I was at once converted and baptized. I didn't need any scriptures to tell me what God was like, whether there was a God, or any of that nonsense.
The "Meaningfulness of Existence" had been revealed to me through a higher Revelation, one that doesn't need human words. It was revealed in a different language, the one we call music, the one that never needs a translator or interpreter, because it speaks "in tongues", directly to every human heart. And it had been spoken by one of Music's greatest Prophets, Ludwig van Beethoven.
There are many musicians throughout history who have recognized the divine nature of music, and because they recognize it, they have the proper reverence for it. Beethoven, of course, felt this way. Antonio Vivaldi, the great Baroque composer of the seventeenth century, was, in addition to being a great musician, also a priest. One time he ran off the altar in the middle of saying Mass, because he had just at that moment received an inspiration for a new piece of music which he had to immediately write down, lest he forget. "I was called by a higher authority", he later explained.
In our own time, musicians like Carlos Santana exemplify this highest type of artist. Santana's relationship to his music has always been intensely spiritual, and you can certainly hear it in the notes! There is an intense quality of ennobled human emotion in his playing, as there is in the music of all such artists. "When I play, it's no good unless I cry" he has said.
I have always noticed that the greatest musicians came to see that what they had dedicated their lives to was of a Divine, or Ultimate origin. In addition to being irresistibly compelled to be music makers and creators, they knew they were answering a supremely high calling. It is not without meaning that Franz Liszt's students were not called students, but disciples. The same with Francisco Tarrega, (who Segovia called "the patron saint of the classical guitar")
Why Do People Want Music?
Now, human beings have argued endlessly over their confused ideas of "God", and made hundreds of versions of "God" each in their own image, and each with a different name which they know is the "true" one. But the beautiful thing about the language of music is that there is no confusion. There is no doubt. It is a direct communication of the Divine to the human heart, and it speaks to each heart that recognizes it. And it speaks in the native language of every heart it touches. When we are moved by the music we love, transported and taken to that place which is above this world, we don't need someone to explain it to us, or tell us whether it's "true" or not. We know.
And if you are a music lover, it doesn't matter whether you have ever thought about it in this way or not, whether you have ever used the words I am using. The Reality we are talking about is beyond words, by definition! That's the whole point! That's why we need music to touch it! Music puts us in touch with our INTUITION, our "inward knowing" of the Spiritual Reality that stands behind this physical one we normally touch.
A thirteen year old listening to their favorite rock band or rap artist, the 30 year old listening to their favorite pop artist or folkie type singer/songwriter, the person sitting down to meditate upon the mysteries of a Bach fugue or late Beethoven string quartet, all are feeding upon this most necessary food of the human spirit, and are drawn to it as naturally as a baby to it's mothers milk.
Now, here is the whole point.
What I am essentially saying is that music is a basic human need, it is not a luxury. If we do not feed upon this spiritual food, we will pay a price, we will suffer. If you have put yourself in the position of being one who MAKES this magic called music, if you have decided to become one who speaks this potent, universal, wordless language, than you have just joined a special community.
What Should We Be Doing When We Play Music?
If you have decided to be the provider of this spiritual food for others, then you have taken on a very special job, a very special function. And you must have the proper relationship to it, as those you are providing it for must also.
A priest, minister, or rabbi, is also one who serves the function of providing, or leading people to, spiritual food. He or she leads the congregation to commune with a higher, spiritual reality. I assume that such a spiritual figure, when they are conducting services, are wholly focused on what they are doing. I assume they are not up there thinking, "Gee, how am I doing? Hope the congregation is liking this! Likewise, I assume the congregation is focused on the reason they are there, to participate in a mutual "spiritual" experience, which the leader is providing. I assume they are not sitting there waiting for the guy to trip up a couple of words! I assume that if the leader misses or mumbles a few words here and there it is not going to make the participants lose their entire focus, and miss the spirit of the experience.
Many performers create terrible strictures for themselves by being so afraid of missing a few notes here and there. They play as if their primary focus was to not miss a note, instead of playing with feeling and expression. That would be like giving a speech, and focusing more on your articulation than on the meaning of what you had to say. Of course, it is not like the technical aspects are not important, but they are of SECONDARY importance. Music began because something needed to be expressed that couldn't be expressed in words. Technique is the servant of expression, and should never be the master. Anyway, technical matters will take care of themselves when we know how to practice correctly.