September 15, 2010

Recent gig post-mortem

I gave a couple of solo performances this past weekend, for the first time in a few years. They went great! The first was as background music for a reception at my local library. It sort of fell out of the sky for me, was a nice warm-up opportunity for me as it happened to be on the night before my scheduled recital. Aside from the incredible hospitality of my hosts, I had some nice comments from the attendees, and found that many of them gathered around me rather than away from me. Always a good sign! Background music gigs are sometimes a bit awkward but I was made to feel very welcome.

The following day, I played at the Burlington, WA public library's concert series. I had seen Noteworthy Duo there a few months ago, and felt like it was a surprisingly great place to perform. It has a very welcoming atmosphere and great acoustics. I am a big believer in the intimacy of live performances and would generally prefer a house concert over a large hall any day, and this place has a living room -like feel to it with acoustics that allow you to hear the music clearly anywhere in the large room.

I played the following program:
  • J. S. Bach: Cello Suite 3 BWV1009
  • Heitor Villa-Lobos: Etude 1
  • Heitor Villa-Lobos: Prelude 3
  • Agustin Barrios Mangore: La Catedral
  • Leo Brouwer: Dos Aires Populares Cubanos
  • Joaquin Rodrigo: En Los Trigales
Aside from the Barrios and Rodrigo, these were all pieces that are new to me as of this year. How did they go? Well, I really like the Brouwer pieces but they didn't seem to fit, somehow. Perhaps they would have been better before La Catedral, to break up the mood a bit, but I have to admit, they just don't feel like "my" pieces. I no longer plan to keep them in my concert repertoire. Brouwer is one of my favorite composers, though, and very influential to my approach to the guitar, so his music will continue to play a role in my repertoire.

I had actually prepared Rodrigo's Sonata a la Espanola, as well, and I wish now that I had played it. The main reason that I didn't was that somehow I managed to go well over-time before I got to it, which is odd because with it, I had clocked my rehearsal performances at 61 minutes. It means that a bit of tuning and a few brief words in between pieces and perhaps a some slower than intended tempi filled up more time than I would have guessed. On the other hand, I still felt a little uneasy about the last movement of the Sonata, and everything that I did play I was able to play with total conviction.

I suppose that is one of the big differences between these performances and the ones I did several years ago; I haven't necessarily studied this music for as long, but I have done so more thoroughly and confidently than before. Part of that comes from the experience I have amassed in the years since, but a lot of it is a change in approach, too.

I have come to understand and appreciate in a deep way, the importance of one's frame of mind while studying, practicing, listening, and performing. This is a direct influence of Kevin Gallagher on me and he writes about it quite a bit on his blog. I think that for me it boils down to the fact that I can have an understanding and intention in mind before I play, and I can look back critically on what I played, but when I play I need to just trust myself to do what I have trained to do. In essence, I played these two performances the same way I play irish flute in social situations ((non-jam) sessions), which is that I listened and enjoyed the music while my body did the work for me.

I think that this is what all accomplished performers do, and is kind of a prerequisite to real musical communication, which I believe I was able to achieve at least some of the time. Everything I have read or heard about performing well can be rephrased or interpreted in this way. For me, it's something new; I have been working on it all year and started finally breaking through the inner-critic and other barriers I've set up over the years and I'm happy to say that these were the best solo-guitar performances I've ever given because I was able to listen to and enjoy every note I played as clearly as if someone it was someone else playing it for me.

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