Rehearsing, Performing and the Relationship with Time
I recently found myself leafing through a book called The Time Paradox that explores the question of people’s relationships with past, present and future. These relationships seem to consist of a combination of attention (is your imagination always leaping ahead to plans and projects yet to come, or wallowing in events that have already happened?), and emotional orientation (do you focus on the positive or negative aspects of the time you’re paying attention to?).
Lots of interesting stuff in there, of which possibly the most important for practical purposes is the typical profile of happy and well-adjusted people. This involves a strong orientation towards the positive past (traditions, happy memories, as opposed to regrets), and a reasonably strong orientation to both the hedonistic present (pleasure, living in the moment, as opposed to the fatalistic present in which you feel no control over your life) and to the future. They also have some useful lists of things to do to strengthen your connection with any of these if you’re out of balance.
Now, this all got me thinking about how the pattern of activity for performing entertainers shifts between these different orientations. Our primary social role is to provide a service that helps our audiences live in the pleasurable now. A successful performance is one in which the audience members’ past and future recede and disappear from their consciousness, leaving only the unfolding narrative of the event. This is the kind of thing Carl Maria von Weber was talking about when he described an operatic ideal in which all the elements – music, staging, libretto – dissolved into each other to form a new world.
However, the performers themselves spend a lot of their time between performances with their attention in the future. Developing and rehearsing performances are inherently future-oriented activities. You are constantly mentally measuring the distance to the next performance, and comparing your idea of how it should go with the current state of your material. You’re juggling the introduction of new material with the refinement and/or maintenance of the old in dialogue with the performance goals spread out ahead of you.
The trick in performance, though, is to join the audience in the present.
Actually, the biggest danger during performance can be staying in the past, trying to replicate past activities undertaken in rehearsal, playing along with your past self rather than doing in the Now. This is a good way to produce an obedient but rather servile performance.
This is why Hans Erik Deckert is wise when he defines a stage of the practice process in which you stop thinking about technical control of the instrument and just think about controlling musical shape. ‘Allow the instrument to play you,’ he says, ‘not vice versa.’ His description of the practising as being like breathing – an ‘oscillation between thinking and forgetting’ – feels like a very healthy working relationship between the Manager and the Communicator.