For various reasons I’ve been to quite a few amateur performances recently. All were enjoyable, but I noticed something that was common to them all. It puzzled me, but I am not sure if I have simply forgotten what it is like to be a beginner or a non-professional.
What struck me was that as the music became animated in character, the musicians did not become animated along with it. As the tension built up, or the volume increased, they moved their hands and arms faster on their bows, keyboards or whatever, but their physical demeanour didn’t change and their facial expressions certainly didn’t. (Before anyone tells me that this is because they were playing po-faced classical music: they weren’t.) To me the impassivity looked strange, as if there was a barrier between the players and the music, even though they were the ones delivering the music.
Now, I am not suggesting that anyone should ‘act’ when they play music – far from it – but I would love them to allow themselves to be animated by the spirit of the music as it builds up a head of steam. I long to see something rippling through the orchestra or choir like wind through a field of corn.
‘Animato’ is one of my favourite musical expressions. It suggests being open to the music, letting it into your interior life, allowing its energy to enter your playing. Actually, doing so is a very good way of dissolving the painful self-consciousness that can inhibit you when you play in public. If you focus on the ‘story’ of the music, you forget about yourself.
It’s quite possible that if I could see a film of myself performing as a young student I might find my own demeanour inexpressive. I always thought I was registering the changing mood of the music, but did it show? I don’t know. At any rate, I now find that I watch people’s body language and search their faces as they play for signs that they are following the inner life of the music. It’s so satisfying when they are!