Tuesday, March 20, 2012

On Stage, Under the Lights

"...As we played, it was almost natural to carry on conversations, exchange laughs, as the music magically happened seemingly on its own." 

 It took me several swings at learning how to play guitar, once at a young age, and that was a less than successful attempt, and again as a teenager.. Closer to success.. still a minimal success rate. In my early twenties I began torturing my friends and family by a concerted effort and hours of noise making practice.

I joined the throngs of basement musicians, trudging through learning songs my rewind, play, rewind on a cassette player. I had no visions of ever playing in front to the cat, let alone any form of audience. However, as my comfort and repertoire grew, I had occasion to nervously play in camp fire settings, and small house parties.

After a good number of basement years, and small groups of victims that were in the wrong place at the wrong time and were subjected to my clumsy guitar efforts, something changed.

I was asked to play and sing for a larger group of people, even strangers, probably 40-50 people that were expecting entertainment. I was very comfortable with my set list, but was knee shaking nervous, as I finished tuning, and looked up at a seeming sea of eyeballs all focused at me. Working though my first song was horrific, focused on my fingers on the neck of my guitar, hearing my own voice as I sang. I was terrified as I wrapped up my first song. This is when something changed completely and permanently. They cheered, and applauded, and started calling out requests.

I know now that the group were probably more motivated by the steady stream of shooters that had been passed around for the previous hours, and they may have reacted the same to a recording of William Shatner singing on a portable 8 track player with a 2 inch speaker. But I didn’t care, my biggest fear was silence. The group was enthusiastic and wanted more – the motivators (tequila and zambuka shots) were unimportant to me.

As I played, I forgot completely about what my fingers were doing, no longer was focused on the sound of my voice. I got lost (in a good way) in performing. It was an unconscious transition, but an amazing one. The music was just happening, much more rhythmic, much more energized, and much more accurate. The music just flowed from my guitar, and rather than an outsider looking in, I became part of the party. With the music almost just happening on its own, I became part of the crowd, observing them, observing me.

Over the years, I had the good fortune to fall into an incredible group of musicians, a drummer, a bass player, and lead guitar player. The three of them were much more skilled than I with their respective instruments, but my clumsy timing and disregard to the laws of music, faded with their influence and knowledge of music.

The phenomenon of music freely flowing unconsciously remained, and was even exemplified with the additional sounds from my band mates. As we played, it was almost natural to carry on conversations, exchange laughs, as the music magically happened seemingly on its own.

As we performed in various bars, and private events, I would stand behind the microphone truly enjoying the sounds of the music, but I expect a surprise to the patrons of these events. I was more enthralled with watching the goings on within the crowd, than any effort to play the music. I could scan the room to see who is tapping their toes, mouthing the words, who we were connecting with, and who we had lost. It was an enjoyable challenge to find those that we had not gained a connection with, and adjust the set list, tempo, and volume to pull them into the music with us. I watched couples arguinmg, I watched men and women get picked up, I watched disputes, laughter and tears. I could see well in advance disputes over girlfriends devolve into physical altercations.

For the many years that I have played with the band and the years after when I played solo on stage, my biggest reward will never be where my fingers of my left land on my fret board, or the strumming rhythm or my right hand. My reward is the opportunity to be a participant in so many events, and the adrenalin invoking sensation of music without any thought or effort can flow from me.

I suggest that the next occasion(s) you have to enjoy live music, look at the performers.. there will be those focused on their instruments, or those lucky enough to be free of the effort and joining you in enjoying the music.


  1. http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10150238334717333

    I wish this video was longer, but I like it none-the-less. I can see you are not nervous when you preform now, lol.

  2. Thank Nevin, now, unfortunately my article may have come across that I have some musical talent, and that video proves clearly that I do not (LOL)... but it does go to add to my point that this sensation of separating from the music while performing that is not based on the quality of the sound you are making, but on the exhilarating feeling of music flowing from you alone.

  3. Well said. And if memory serves; very well played. I even liked the enthusiastic jumping.