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What makes some performances great?

January 15, 2012

Before you read any more of this post, watch this video;

The first time I saw this video, I was just lukewarm on it, I found it interesting but it didn’t grab me like a lot of the Ted talks usually do.  I thought about it for a while, came back, and watched it again.  It wasn’t until I was waiting outside for the bus that the message started to sink in and really got me excited.

Have you ever been to a performance that got you fired up?  That made you want to race home and practice? Or made you happy, or sad, or evoked any emotion?  Now, have you been to a professional performance and acknowledged that it was well performed, but you felt a little “whatever” at the end of it?  It was clean, everything was there, very well played, but you didn’t get that same emotional reaction that you had experienced elsewhere?  I know I have, but I have always wondered why, what really makes the difference?

A similar question I have asked myself a lot, especially at auditions, is what makes me special?  What will make the winner special? What do I need to do to set myself apart from the mass of technically proficient players?

This talk gives us something to think about.  In the scenarios Simon Sinek poses, the competition is just as, if not more, capable of accomplishing the task.  What Simon argues allowed our heroes to rise above the rest and be more successful was the “why” behind their drive.  It was the passion, the idea, the core value that people – be it employees, customers, or audience members – connected with.  How perfect is that for what we do as musicians?  Compare the teacher that teaches because he or she has a passion for helping younger players overcome hurdles and find joy in music V.S. the teacher who uses lessons just to pay the bills until the big gig comes along.  Which teacher will be more effective and have a stronger studio? Think about the performances you have been to that moved you V.S. the ones that were just well executed? What about your own personal performances, were there ones where you might have played less technically perfect, but you were happier with because of an emotional tie to the performance?

Geez… that’s a lot of questions, but I really want you to be thinking about what separates art from beauty.  Is a beautiful performance an artistic one?  I think all art is beautiful, but not all beautiful things are art.  What makes something art is the “why” behind it.  It turns a group of notes into something profoundly human that is easy to connect to.  It’s what makes you feel electric after some lessons, like the teacher brought you to a higher level of performance.

So, the challenge for this week is to assign a “why” to everything you play.  It doesn’t matter how simple, think about why it is important to you and pursue it with conviction!   As always, let me know your thoughts and join the conversations on facebook and twitter (@brasschatter).  Happy practicing!

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