This past weekend I got the opportunity to travel back to Memphis and perform with the Hope Pres ensemble for their Easter services this year. Not only is this gig lucrative, it is also very inspirational for the 15,000 people that attend the services over the weekend, as well as the performers. Because this venue is so large (and the orchestra is so small) each musician is amplified with a microphone, and we often appear on one of the jumbo-trons so that the audience can feel like they’re right there on the front row. Hearing yourself louder than you ever have through a microphone in an arena and seeing yourself 20 stories tall on a giant screen are both very cool experiences, but it comes at a price – you must be fully engaged at all times!
When performing with an orchestra, wind ensemble, or anything similar to that you are being observed by an audience, but there are still places to hide. The percussionists, for example, could easily be reading a book instead of counting measures (it seems to be the case often times), because they are so far back in the stage. As a bassoonist, hiding musically isn’t that difficult with loud trumpets and horns on the row right behind us. Being in a situation with mics and cameras, though, required a deeper level of concentration because even the harmonically supportive whole notes rang clear throughout the hall, thanks to a sound mixing team in the back. Counting rests became a more active thing, because it would be bad to be caught yawning, sleeping (mentally, if not physically), or looking uninterested on camera for thousands to see. The performances went well, and my hat goes off to all of the soloists and other musicians involved.
The idea of being engaged and giving a full physical performance is one I’ve thought about often. When you look at ensembles like the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra in Venezuela, you see a stage full of musicians who have a physical attachment and reaction to the music that is being played, and I think it’s so much more interesting to watch. I’m not the biggest “mover” when I play in an ensemble setting, but I am constantly thinking about how I can translate the music into something physical, for the benefit of the people watching. Not only does it ensure your familiarity of the works, it gives onlookers the idea that you really do know what you’re doing! I feel like watching a performance with people who look like statues would be not too far from simply listening to a radio (my car radio is back on, by the way, and I ended up just turning it off by the time I got to work). I will compete in the USC concerto competition tomorrow, and I will definitely do everything I can to make it look like I know the Concerto for Bassoon and Wind Ensemble by Eric Ewazen as well as I really do (cross your fingers for me, and good luck to all of the other participants)!
Even if you’re not a musician, I think there are ways to perform on life’s stage in a convincing manner. Maybe people don’t care what you’re wearing or how you’re walking, but if we’re honest we’ve all caught ourselves people watching at the airport, waiting for a bus, or on a restaurant patio. We too often, in my opinion, fail to remain aware of how our piece of the puzzle fits. For example, my “day” job here in Los Angeles is actually at the USC Gould School of Law office of admissions. It’s basically a lot of paper pushing, but I definitely wear a tie most days. Even if I opt out of it a couple days of the week, I always make sure to look like a professional in the field of higher education administration, because that’s the hat I have to wear to pay some of the bills. I’m actually wearing jeans today with my excuse being that my flight landed late and I’m still very tired, but hey – I’m still fabulous.
Perform on life’s stage! It's easy to think that we're going unnoticed, but we can never know when someone has the microphone on us. Where the “costume” that’s appropriate for your role. Be aware of the way you’re perceived by other people in public. Don’t be caught picking your nose when the jumbo-tron lands on you! Make sure your white t-shirt isn't showing when the camera does an aerial shot of you, Nathan! ;-)
Pictured below: Hope Pres Stage