31.3.09

recital anxiety? ... but it's cute!



for the month of april, monkey's doubling as a recording engineer. a fancy term if you ask me. am i really an engineer? according to the great wikipedia, the term is defined as following (if it's on web, it's true ya? heh.)
An engineer is a person professionally engaged in a field of engineering. Engineers are concerned with developing economical and safe solutions to practical problems, by applying mathematics and scientific knowledge while considering technical constraints. As such, the work of engineers is the link between perceived needs of society and commercial applications. Some consider this profession to be the link between art and science.

well, i would be a professional(am getting paid) in field of engineering (even when i may be standing in the middle of the field like a scarecrow in late fall that someone forgot to take off from the field, totally clueless), applying math and science knowledge (well i suppose i have to cut tracks and use basic science knowledges such as power need to be on for machines to work. believe or not, this is one of the common problems of malfunctioning machines: power's off!) and am under constraints (whether they be technical or not..)

the work is a link between PERCEIVED needs of society (i guess documentation is documentation, regardless of the quality of it. im not saying the concerts i record are good nor bad, i aint saying anything in fact. i say it's a perceived need because.. well, we as the society grew this weird attachment to logging everything- whether it's necessary or not. in a sense, it's not a need, but more of in-case-of-need, need for a possible need). link between art and science, well, that's grey enough that anyone with passing grade in logic could argue for/against/inbetween. we'll also leave that alone for a bit. so i guess, monkey's engineering this month.

anyhows, it's student recordings that i will be working on. and my mentor tonmeister is a smartypants. rest assured students- the recordings will be fine, perhaps- well, too honest sometimes (i prefer the crisp, close-up, tight space sound, what the a.eng. often refer as german school). so no harm done for the performers really.

as i am watching these recitals, it brings back many memories. most of them hilarious at least. some just really funny. no, im not laughing at others. im laughing at myself, really. i have no idea how many concerts i have played at this point- i started working at a big community church when i was 14 and they always had concertinos for holidays and occasions. as undergraduate, i started to accompany people for recitals/juries/whatevers. funny enough, because i was a music education major (that's borderline designation for 'one that may not play their instruments with proficiency' in music schools), i didnt really play much at school. instead, i went all over europe for festivals and played there, isnt that ironic. ha ha. festival performances- well, they really vary. i will get to it, i promise.

the very first grown-up recital i had was my masters 1st recital i suppose. a packed program, entire stage, all to my-self. it was not frightening, but lonely. with the lightings and such, you dont really see the people. the school i went to, university of kansas, had a medium sized hall (now that i think of it), but i swear it felt like a football field. or even better, chernobyl. after the bomb, thanks. no one's around, they are all standing around the vicinity and watch you suffer. a faint whispers of support occasionally ringing through dead field, clap.. clap.. cl..a...p. . .

okay that was a tad bit dramatic.

so went the early days of grown-up performing. with sound checks and everything. though i never really got into the whole dressing up stuff. nah. in fact, in my first two doctoral recitals, i solved the entire dressing problem by:

1.carving up a nice mohawk on the night before: well, i was shaving my friend javier's head and we had this marvelous idea of shaving mine. it got better as we decided to leave some chunks. mind you, this was fresh short hair that was just grown out from the fall bald-shaving session. the things people do for fun. ha.

2.having the entire house dark, stage dark, just one dinky desk lamp, to the piano keys. i was invisible. no way you could have commented on my posture or pedalling. or grimaces etc. ah the inaudible but clearly visible swearing. so uncharacteristic in midst of.... beautiful and graceful schubert. heh.

i thought i was being so original until i realized, crap, richter have already done it. and he played like a mofo. well, there goes the power of novelty i suppose. bonus points for my hero for having dark house though. anyhows, the dark-house was put to early death because people fell asleep (those who stayed awake, however, really liked the fact that they were FORCED to listen. nice. now im shoving sound into people's ears. ha ha) and the fire marshalls (how do they know) complained about dangers of fire escape plan (but really, what are the chances of having a fire in middle of recital vs. just cases of bad/dead music?)

anyways. i got my fair and more than sane amount of performance experiences in last 5years. three especially brutal sessions remain fresh in my head (how could i forget): casalmaggiore collaborative position, UNL collaborative teaching assistantship and recently, banff.

casals was brutal in a sense that in three short weeks, there are concert put on almost everyday, twice a day infact. students do the weekday ones and then faculties on wknd. me, being an intern, fell into the abyss, playing.. well, for both parties. so. end: playing some obscene amount of music, over 30 programs for 3 weeks. sometimes the entire thing, sometimes partial. sometimes in and out of orders. gawd. i went through music as if it was.. well.. free. like and addict (more like prisoner in some way though). that was two summers.

UNL position: i taught some classes, but because im kinda lacking authority power (no shoes, tattered jeans, occasional sprinkle of swearing during class instruction, further sprinkled by more swearing as im trying to apologize) and was the kid would and could read anything, i ended up playing for the flute/saxophone/viola studios. see what happens: if you can play quietly, read all the odd rhythms and deal with contemp repertoire, they stick you with classical saxophone. which is.. well, not the best rep. same with viola. the flute studio was too much fun though. that was GOOD for me. and good with me. i played all sorts of things from bach/handel continuo sonatas on harpsichord to the hot-off-the-press-by-classical-music-standard, like muczynski and liebermann. i think on second semester of my second year, i didnt take any coursework (was done), but was at school from some obscene hours to swearing hours. every bloody day. lots and lots and lots of concerts.

banff: not only i got to play solo/collaborative, i also played with visiting artists, who were way........ better than i. and brought some real hard reps. everyone there was uber committed to music, and the reps got harder and harder. including that busoni sonata that nearly killed monkey at one point. at least i survived and am going back for more in the fall. may be it is an addiction at this point.

for about 6-7 years of kick-butt playing load, i think i finally found some points that are important. the very first thing is that i dont like solo reps. my favs are chamber music, in order of: quintet-quartet-instrumental sonatas-trio. trios are hard because the piano is just too big for a trio format. so you really have to adjust and play... smaller. but not weaker. hard ordeal. like playing for viola (im not making fun of viola, but for violists, pianists really have to scale down to not to completely annihilate their sound).

another thing is since casals, i learned to take each recital as an experience. at certain point, i remember making a complaint to one of my favorite mentors: the freebies are gone! he went: what? hah. let me explain.

when you are less experienced (or whatever), often on stage, things MIRACULOUS happen and you feel super great. things work. finally. have no idea why. adrenalin, whatever it may be. then... in second summer at casals, it stopped.
no miracles. no christmas. no freebies. just really dull-ish feeling of:

crap-i-play-exactly-as-practiced-dissapointing!

but the smart mentor guru told me a truth: well, it means that you are getting better. no surprises are due to the fact that now you can play however you will to play. each note, each phrase. nothings' done for frevolus reasons. things have been thought through and now you can execute them as you see fit.

i took that and ran home and never looked back.

until i quit (again!) after my last big recital of DMA program. i was just too tired and lost interest in music. burnout may be? (dramatic and laconic music cue)

in fact, the first big thing i played since then was in banff. entire bach 4th partita with repetitions and ornamentations, the whole jazz. it was a painful experience. tears, snots, everything. the playing was not the dealbreaker. it was simply being on the stage and start to speak. speak as i am, as i want to, as i need to. naked. vulnerable. i tried really hard to be genuine, not pulling back, put my neck on the line. and it's kinda scary.

well that's three months ago. since then, i played whole bunch. may be i still get some nerves walking from the backstage to the workbench. but. overall. monkey's back and willing to play. not just play the instrument, but to play- like children. invite, interact, provoke, aspire- if im lucky. now, that doesnt mean that i succeed in doing all of that. but just willing to try and giving it a try.

watching these student recitals brings up such mixed feelings sometimes. on top of forementioned stuff, i also had just silly incidents: scores flying away as i turn my pages- off the music rack to floor, wayyy to go in the piece. nosebleed in middle of a piece. simple false starts. getting lost and futile attempt to get back on, missing chunks of pieces (damned recapitulations), playing the entire sonata with mistuned instrumentalists, broken strings in middle of concerto, firealarm, sneeze, all kinds of biological needs arising all the sudden from nowheres, staring on wrong keys, stuck on a crash and almost missing the concert, broken bones in cast- playing anyways, watching out to the hall and getting completely distracted, old people passing out, missing collegues, forgotten or missing/lost scores, getting the time mixed up, contacts falling of your eyes in middle- and no spares! general confusion, you name it, i prob gone through much of it.

am i amused to re-visit all these things? yes. i am. i think they are funny. and also human. and as an engineer, now i am perched on the top of the hall booth, watching the human fiasco, tragecomedy, really. and often, honest and touching performances as well. i am not so glad about the performances wher ive missed/messed things, but im now learning. learning to take them for what they are. and be able to laugh. and take the moments when they were nice.

i hope all those who are on stage gets to experience both peaks of performance wave. enjoy it and chew on it. never let it be just another thing to check off. life is too interesting for let things pass by.

and remember:
this is not about you. it's about us. yes, you, me, audiene, composer, history, culture and the community. and whether you falter or nail things to perfection, there are always moments of saving grace. and.

it's just a concert. there's more coming.

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