Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Tuning Slide - Wow! or Not: A Musician's Mind

Weekly Reflections on Life and Music
Music is the shorthand of emotion.
― Leo Tolstoy

Like most of us I have been “Wowed!” by a performance, event, situation. I will sit there with mouth agape wondering how in the world they did that?

In doing some surfing on the Internet I discovered that there is a whole understanding of “Wow!” as something to aim for. Two headers on a Google search said:
  • Good Customer Service is Over -- WOW Your Customers
  • Ways To Stop Satisfying Customers And Start Wowing Them
I even found a book for choral musicians
  • The Wow Factor: How to Create It, Inspire It & Achieve It: A Comprehensive Guide for Performers by Steve Zegree

The Urban Dictionary defines the “wow factor”:
  • A set of properties belonging to an object that pleasantly surprise a watcher.
And the Cambridge dictionary says:
  • a quality or feature of something that makes people feel great excitement or admiration:
Pleasant surprise, excitement and admiration. Yep.

As a musician such a moment can be inspirational to me- or send me to give up on even trying. My favorite joke when listening to such a trumpet performance is simply, They didn’t put those notes into my trumpet.

Which of course isn’t true.

But being "Wowed!" by a performance may actually work against us as musicians. It can get in the way of experiencing the music on a deeper level. When we feel "Wow!" we move away from the music itself and fall into our emotional response. Not a bad thing, of course, as I will talk about in a little bit, but at that moment we end up becoming lost in our response and ignoring what is happening in the music itself that is making us feel this way.

I don't mean that we should sit in detached disinterest and listen to the music as if it were some class assignment. Nor do I mean that we should sit and analyze every moment of music that we hear to see what it is doing.

Rather I see the need to catch the "Wow!" and let it be real, not an overwhelming of our emotions by the music, but having the music flow through us in a way that we can feel and touch its meanings and movements.

The emotional response I mentioned is not something to be avoided or to fall 150% into. Rather it is a cue- a trigger- that says to me, when it happens, that there is something exciting and important happening here in this music. It is moving me; it is making my inner self sit up and pay attention; it is grabbing hold of me.
  • What is happening? 
  • What's going on here? 
  • Why is it touching me in this way?
Another word to describe this is one I feel is an essential to daily life: Mindfulness.

When the "Wow!" happens it is calling me to mindfulness. It is calling me to pay attention to what is happening in my life at this very moment through this music.

I remember a Wynton Marsalis concert I attended 25 years or so ago. I no longer remember the piece he played, but I remember a moment when he finished off a solo in the most incredibly moving way. As it ended and I exhaled with a quiet "Huh!" I heard someone else in the audience do the same thing just before the applause started. I figured it was another trumpet player who understood the feeling of that solo.

I didn't analyze it, I let it happen and gave thanks for the moment. It was not a "Wow!" as much as it was a moment of awareness. I felt myself as real IN the moment as Wynton's notes touched me. When we get stuck in the "Wow!" we can lose that mindful awareness.

To grow as a musician I need to listen to the kind of performances that might contain the "Wow!" but I cannot be overcome by them. I have to learn to live in them and them to live in me. I can then learn to find that same mindfulness as I play my music. It's just being present. And experiencing it.

Which is what mindfulness is daily life is all about. When we are willing to be open to what is going on around us and acknowledge its power, we are not being "Wowed!" We are rather, living in the possibilities of the moment.

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