Wow. One day, five posts (four not written by me), and a lot to think about. As I read each post the first time through, I diligently made notes. Unfortunately, if I attempted to address all of the points in them that intrigued me, at the end of the week I’d no longer be a professional pianist, special or otherwise. One thing I’ve noticed which I do want to address, though, is the very wide variety of attributes/activities/priorities landing under the “special” umbrella. That’s natural, and good, given the different perspectives the five of us bring, but I think at this point some clarification/classification is in order.
In my initial post, I referred to myself as being “sort of unspecial.” What I meant is that my suspicion is that the vast majority of my audience comes to my concerts simply because they like the music that I play, and they are inclined to think that they might like the way I play it. The latter might be the case for many reasons; I have never thought of any activity that would help communicate my feelings about music to my audience as “specialness,” but I can see why it might fall into that category. So let me be clear: that, I’m unequivocally for. (Though, like Matthew, I’m very conscious that it only works when it is done really well: the line between advocacy and apology is curiously thin.) I do think that a great musician is defined by his or her ability to convey his feeling for music through playing, but if blogging/interviews/lectures/etc. on the music help bring the audience closer, that’s all to the good.
(Sidebar: I’m ignoring the important question of specialness in programming, just because it seems separate to me. I’ll try and come back to it before the week is up.)
Then there is a whole other kind of special: the human interest special. The feature-story-in- another-section-of-the-paper special. The “get-to-know-the-artist-away-from-his-instrument” special. And while I see the value in this, at least from a marketing perspective, it makes me uneasy. This is a blog about PR, and so I know I’m outlining a rather radical position here, but I feel it’s important, so here goes:
Sunday night, while stranded at the Toronto airport, I found myself watching the Golden Globes, of all things. Meryl Streep, in accepting her award, made a charming comment about being mistaken for an extraordinary woman because she’s played such a long string of them, and then, as a corollary, said that she thought of herself as a vessel, through which these characters came to life. And it occurred to me that while I’ve seen her in plenty of movies, I know very little about her, and that that mystery probably makes it much easier for her to disappear into a role – and for me, her audience, to buy it. I won’t name names, but I imagine we probably all can think of certain fine actors – likely of a younger generation – in whom it is very difficult to suspend the disbelief necessary to appreciate their performances (or, rather, appreciate them as something deeper than “performances”). Their every move is broadcast to us by the media; they never become characters because they are always their personae. (We don’t really know them, of course, but we are encouraged to think that we do, and that’s the point. And I assume this happens because everyone in the equation – the actors themselves, their representatives, the people marketing their movies, and the media – feels they are gaining something by it.)
Now, the analogy to classical music is an imperfect one, but not so imperfect that it isn’t worth making. We performers are interpreters. Re-creators. Vessels, if you will. The performer’s feeling for the music comes into it – how could it not? – but in the greatest performances I’ve heard, the person or people playing have seemed to disappear, and my feeling that I was connected purely to the music I was hearing was absolute. And the more of a persona the person onstage has cultivated, the harder it is for this magical disappearance to take place. To put it bluntly, rather than a vessel through which the music is communicated, he or she becomes an obstacle between the audience and the music. I’ve painted this issue more in black and white than seems fair, just to clarify the argument. But I do think this is an aspect of the performer’s contract with the music, and with the audience, which would benefit from a serous discussion.
Of course, as a performer, I’m more protected from the commercial aspect of music than any of my fellow-bloggers. So I’m very curious to hear everyone’s thoughts on this question. –
(Further sidebar: for the sake of clarity, I’ll respond to Amanda’s question in a separate post.)