Why Get on Stage Anyway?

(Purpose, programming and Possibilities)

September 25 2015


 35   What, are you crazy? How many times have I asked myself this?! Performing is a funny business at the best of times; nerves to deal with, and a certain level of uncertainty which can, to an observer, look anything but fun. Then of course I seem to like performing without music - no safety net! Ok, insane! Why do we do it?

    Different people will have different reasons as to why they do it. It could be as simple as, “this is just what I do”, or even, “I never thought about it really”. I’ve certainly been there too, and have had many different experiences from the stage over the years. I do feel, that for myself, I know I end up dealing with the butterflies (or stage fright if you will) when I don’t have a clear purpose for being on the stage that night. In other words, if I’m going to be there on a stage (through my own volition no less), I’d better have something to say!

    For me, the clear purpose has to be that of telling my story through the music I’m going to be playing. If I don’t feel that a particular piece of music on my programme that night contributes to that, then I feel extremely uncomfortable if I have to play it. Completely icky in fact; so much so that I dread having to go out there and feel rather like when I get involved in a juicy debate and I argue the other side just for kicks. Except not like that no. That’s fun, but doing it on stage musically, not so much. Luckily, I’m more often in a position these days to decide for myself what a programme shall be. For the other times when I don’t get to decide, I have to do my utmost to become a good actor, convincing myself of the purpose of a programme first.

    So let’s talk about programming...please make it interesting! When all the planets align and I get to choose a programme, my only thought is what kind of story arc will I be able to create for the audience that is going to listen. That’s it. It’s not about what I think I should play as a flutist (you know...”those pieces”), or what I think will show off some aspect of my technical ability or what key a piece is in or what period it’s from, and I certainly don’t want to present an historically acceptable and chronological tour through music history - yawn. The same goes for any programme notes I might need to write. I try to stay away from a textbook regurgitation of historical dates and discussions on structure and form, because really, c’mon. Instead I might write about what a piece means to me and why it’s placed in the programme where it is in general terms. I feel this gives the listener a small starting point from which they may join me on this journey.  One experience in particular changed the way I approached programming. A while back while rehearsing a recital programme, my pianist suggested I end the whole show with a very soft and quiet piece. Not just a piece with a quiet ending, the whole piece was like this. I took his suggestion and it was the most effective experience. So much so that I most often end programmes this way now rather than the expected big flutey bang.  I’m not on stage to ‘educate’ an audience but rather, to play for them and experience with them.

    In my mind, a constant consideration of someone who has paid to come to listen to me play the flute for a couple of hours is paramount. They must have an experience.  I might take one or two pieces that speak to me currently and create a story arc to which I will add other suitable pieces until the product is coherent, to me first. Is this story a play by play narrative that one could put into words? No. It certainly can be that, but it can also be an arc of emotion or thought, images or memories. At times, it’s almost a stream of consciousness that would be impossible to dictate.  Most often for me, pieces of music are about people I know and experiences I’ve had with them (both good and bad); at other times it can be more of an actual narrative of something I’ve experienced or imagined.

    Of course this means that more often than not, I play music that wasn’t actually written for the flute. At this point, there isn’t much in the flute repertoire that speaks to me and what I’m trying to say because apparently I haven’t grown up yet (yay!). If I truly don’t have anything to ‘say’ with a piece of music, I will not perform it. I feel it would be disingenuous to the audience that night and I’d be telling a big fat lie; a story I didn’t actually believe in. However I know that as I live and experience more of life, different pieces begin to take hold as others lose their grip on me and so I simply wait for the process to happen naturally.

    One such experience happened recently at our Whole Musician Retreat in Toronto. One of the participants played a piece that I hadn’t even really thought about for many years. Upon hearing him play it however, I suddenly startedone of the most interesting and exciting performances. Duo Mei getting ideas I’d not had before. After the retreat I went home, pulled it off the shelf and lo and behold, there was a narrative unfolding right there in front of me. One of the clearest stories yet!

    This doesn’t mean that I expect an audience to understand what it is I’m trying to say up there. The intent only is to tell my story and leave everything else up to them. They can think and feel whatever it is they like and whatever it is that makes sense to them. In this way, I find instrumental music to be much more freeing than vocal music. Without words, we leave the audience much more in their own world and don’t tell them what they should be feeling or thinking.

    For me, I’ve found that the old battles with stage fright and so on have diminished greatly or even disappeared when I can walk out on stage with a clear purpose of what I want to do. This has nothing to do with technical considerations and in fact those things never even enter my mind because it’s all about this concert experience on this night. Taking a roomful of people on a journey for two hours is most magical. So, no, it’s not insanity to get up on that stage. It’s simply that I got something I wanna say. Did I just justify (again) the insanity?


Photo (right):Thoroughly enjoyed witnessing Duo Mei's (Patricia Garcia and Juliana Moreno) performance in Lima