by Kevin Gallagher
I observe people very much — sometimes too much, I think. I am always looking for how they communicate. This does not mean what they say, but more importantly HOW they say what they say and what their body language says. It’s something I find fascinating.
When I studied at Juilliard, I took a class called “aesthetics in music.” The whole point of the class was that there is nothing really good nor bad, just different. Well, I don’t believe that at all. I remember two violinists in the class played the same piece. One played beautifully and another played so-so. The teacher said “they are just different — not better or worse.” Let me be very clear here — there is good and bad but more importantly there is different good and different bad. I would be a fool if I said my scales are just different from Pepe Romero. No — I am an adult and I can admit — his scales are better than mine, no question about it. His tremolo is better, too. I don’t mind saying it at all.
In this same class the teacher (who was a very fine person and artist, by the way) kept stressing how we shouldn’t incorporate body movement, “excessive” clothing, lighting, speaking to the audience, anything that “takes away” from the music in our performances. I remember saying to her that if these elements were so distracting, why don’t we play with the lights off? It was not a welcome comment. I think the class thought that I “didn’t have an open mind” to the discussion. I felt it was the reverse. Regardless of what you think of these things (body movement, clothing, speaking, lighting), we must realize that these elements are as important as the notes we play. The performance doesn’t begin and end with the sounds our instrument makes — not at all. The performance begins as we walk on the stage, how we acknowledge the audience, continues as we tune the guitar, the pauses before the first piece, then the way we play the notes. EVERY MINUTE on the stage is the performance — also known as communication.
Segovia knew this well. Listen to the stories from people about how he would start his concerts. People tell me it was like magic. He knew what communication was, in every aspect of his art and life. The same goes for Julian Bream. Yes, I know he had some bad nights — everyone does. Let me tell you, I saw Bream five years ago and it was the most inspired performance I had ever seen. Every part of the concert was communicative — the music, his speaking, his walk on and off, his pauses. It was the greatest lesson for me.
People who say “the audience needs to be more educated” for classical music don’t understand something very basic. Audiences do understand communication very well — it is part of the human instinct. The real problem, I think, is that many musicians don’t understand communication very well. Because of this, the audience becomes distracted and bored. I don’t blame them.
October 23, 2000
“The best way to know God is to love many things.” — Vincent Van Gogh