For many years, I’ve been dreaming of creating a performance environment that would bring musicians and audience together as equals, to share a heightened awareness of the beauty of the present moment through sound and silence. Musicians and listeners would be free to choose how to move, behave, and interact with one another, with much less restriction than we usually experience in a traditional classical concert environment.
This year, The Art of Freedom took our first step towards creating such a situation with our first annual non-performance event, called “Music in the Raw!”, performed by my Art of Freedom and CCM Alexander Technique students. Everyone enjoyed hands-on support from assisting Alexander Technique teachers during the event as well.
The event was simply wonderful. Here’s what one student, Rose Bullock, wrote in response to the idea of the “non-performance”:
“I’m really interested in the whole non-performance idea. It has really made me think a lot about performance standards and traditions in our classical world today. I’ve always disliked being told what to wear to concerts, especially when it’s concert black. I also sometimes sit in a performance thinking that it’s sort of strange how the audience is all just sitting there silently, barely moving in their seats….listening to classical music concerts can feel so non-participatory.
“It seems to me that concerts focus separately on the performers and the audience. As I was sitting in a clarinet recital this week, I felt that the audience was very removed from the performer, who was on a raised stage in light while we were sitting back in low chairs in darkness. Since the audience was almost all clarinetists, I knew we were probably all analyzing her playing and making judgments. I know that I myself used to think extremely harsh judgments of people’s playing. At this recital, though, I decided I wasn’t going to do that. I wasn’t going to look at the music and performer analytically, I was going to try to understand what the performer was trying to get across and to feel as if I was participating in the music myself. It was amazing how much more I enjoyed the recital with that mindset…[I was]…able to stay focused and engaged much more.
“Something about the way a classical music concert is set up takes away some of the personal aspect of playing music, and I find that really sad.
That’s part of why I’ve really enjoyed Alexander Technique. It’s a breath of fresh air to be told you can be totally yourself in the moment and it’s ok. And it’s wonderful to be encouraged to engage your audience and show yourself through your playing.
“I hope that the music world is on its way towards a concert setting which encourages a relationship between the audience and the musicians.“
Well, I think that with our “non-performance”, we achieved quite a few of the things Rose is looking for in an ideal concert. Musicians were free to choose what to wear, what to play or do, where to stand/sit/lie down, whether to speak or not, etc. Listeners were encouraged to sit, stand, move around, eat, drink, or otherwise make themselves comfortable. They were also asked to stay open-minded and non-judgmental, enjoying the moment. Chairs were arranged in a circle or small groups of chairs, according to the musicians’ preferences.
We had some wonderfully creative “non-performances”, including:
A singer who sang in Constructive Rest (lying on the floor, AT-style) and a singer who sang her warm-up exercises, a violist who told us she would work on her entrance into the circle, a banjo player who walked around and looked with joy at each member of the audience, a cellist who shared an online meditation recording with us, a cellist who talked about how she would prepare herself inwardly with Alexander self-directions before beginning to play.
One of our violists, Wooram Kwon (see my last blogpost on orchestral auditions), told us that he is usually nervous in group situations – except birthday parties. So he gave each person a party hat and a noise-maker, inviting us to blow out loud sounds whenever we felt moved by his music, or if for any other reason we wanted to join in by making sound. We all truly felt like participants as we supported Wooram with our own sounds, as he sat in the center of our circle on the physio-ball he’d brought along with him.
I haven’t mentioned everyone, but I was so proud of all of my students who participated. Another very special event of the day was the awarding of our first two Level 1 certificates in The Art of Freedom for Musicians, to Mr. Denny Lynch, retired landscape artist and beginning violinist, and Ms. D. Zhang, college student and pianist. Congratulations to each of them!!
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