Twenty-One Questions for
By Abbie Conant and William Osborne
Many of these questions for musicians stem from our work in music theater, and suggest how inter-disciplinary endeavors might enhance one's understanding as a performer.
1. Are you practicing and performing with a sense of authenticity and commitment, or working as if you had a musical factory job?
2. Some stage directors are interested in the "performer's personality and process". Are you working with such people, or preparing to simply be a cultural institution's “personnel"?
3. Do you try to discover the musicality of a piece for yourself?
4. A performance is a sort of response to the public. The ability to respond begins with silence, stillness and neutrality. Receptivity. Can you respond when performing, or are you too buried in routine or fear?
5. Are you trying to discover your own identity as an artist? Find it, feed it, fatten it. Think of the stage personality of Maurice Andre, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Maria Callas, or Louis Armstrong. Every person has the potential to express his or her own identity. Who are you? How will you find your artistic identity?
6. A stage director uses responsiveness, receptivity, and intuition. Do you direct the music when you play?
7. Have you thought of working together with a composer or performer to develop a music that fully expresses your identity? Is there a music that is really yours? If not, why not? What would such a music be?
8. To explore yourself without performing (just practicing) leads to excessive introspection and inaudible music. With a little practice and encouragement you can evolve as a performer who projects his or her ideas. Are you learning by doing? How often do you perform?
9. Do you practice to be aware of and remove habits and clichés? Do you practice
10. There are three steps to "recreating" a composition. The first is the existential, which is considering what the piece means to you. The second step is the psychological, which is considering the composer's motives for writing it. The third is the semiological, which is determining how you will perform the work so that others can perceive its meaning. Have you considered these steps? How will your performance make vivid the composer's
motives, and your inner relation to the composition?
11. We communicate when we perform. Have you considered that everything has a meaning, including your presence on the stage?
12. Do you realize that humans think with their whole bodies, and not just the brain? Do you realize that performing is essentially an act of the body? Do you consider it presumptuous to consider performance as poetry in space made possible by intense physical preparation?
13. Art is the creation of symbolic forms. How do you highlight and detail your performance to create an iconic vividness?
14. The antics do not make the clown, it is when he or she reveals some truth about him or herself. Authenticity. Is it the technique or acrobatic perfection that makes the musician? Do you reveal the truth about your inner identity when you perform? How can you learn to?
15. Have you noticed how instantly and unthinkingly you catch yourself when you slip on the ice? It's not instinct. When you were born you couldn't even walk. When you play do you make active the knowledge that resides in the body? When you practice are you adding the right knowledge to it?
16. Music and theater were given birth by the same muse. Do you realize that every concept, idea, or method in theater has its corollary in music, and vice-versa? Do you realize how this understanding can enrich your music?
17. Have you considered your internal repertoire of physical, imaginative, and emotional skills? Are you trying to increase them? What are you calling upon when you perform? What do you have to offer as a human being?
18. When you practice and perform do you confront yourself in a state of perpetual discovery?
19. Do you practice with the goal of making things so natural and spontaneous that you no longer feel your body? You must divest your body, it must in effect cease to exist. Ironically, only then does it really begin to exist. Do you "subdue the flesh" by removing its blockages?
20. What are you doing to learn to come before a public and not be afraid?
21. Perhaps music isn't sound. Perhaps it doesn't exist outside of our heads, because nothing in the world is a perfect realization or performance of our abstract ideals. Are you learning to operate with your mistakes? Every performer must. It is part of the human condition to constantly proceed from failure. Is there not a certain frailty and miraculousness to creation?