Just after a performance

A few weeks ago I was involved in a really interesting cross-pollination performance. For want of a better term, let’s call it an ‘event’. I played a Bach suite, and an excellent friend of mine, who happens to be an excellent visual artist, created a painting in real time, as I played the Bach Suite.

There were a few hurdles that we had to jump over to get this to happen.

It took us seven months to actually find a venue that would have us. One was great, apart from airplane noise. Some were too small. Others were too expensive. One had too many steps. But finally, just when we were about to give up, we found a place. We booked, paid a deposit, and started to sell tickets.

Two weeks before the event, my painter friend called up the place, only to find they were in receivership, and had NO RECORD of our booking. I was in rural NSW at the time, doing some really intense teaching, so it was up to my poor friend to sort it all out. Needless to say, it was all sorted – but it was really quite stressful. Especially for her.

Then there was the bump-in. It took four people four hours to set everything up. Canvas frames had to be made specially. Lights had to be rigged up. Chairs had to be set up and wiped down of accumulated grot – it was a huge set up. And this was done by the two performers and their partners. I wonder how many people who came to the event realised we’d been sweating our way through the afternoon, drilling and moving heavy chairs.

It was finally time for the start. I have to say, I was nervous. Nervous because this was something new to me. Nervous because it’s not really a ‘normal’ concert. When I’d told a number of musicians about it, they’d raised their eyebrows and said ‘hmm… sounds interesting‘. Which as we all know, is a euphemism for ‘I don’t think that’ll work.’

The Bach suite was the fifth suite. In C minor. I find the opening hard. And that’s when I’m practising alone, and feeling good about stuff. So when I walked on to play that night, nervous and jumpy, it wasn’t the best I’d played it. The piece starts off with an octave – and mine wasn’t great. In fact, it was pretty terrible. Inside, I was dying a million deaths. I wanted to stop and try again. (But we all know that you can’t do that.) And I kept playing on. For the first page of the suite, I was really thrown by the sound of the painting going on behind me. So it wasn’t my best playing. But then I settled into things. To tell the truth, I didn’t really enjoy the playing, in the moment of perfromance. I was hot. And tired. And nervous. But I played as well as I could.

I am really affected by keys in music. If I’m playing something in A major, everything is good with the world. If I’m playing in C major I feel pretty strong. I was playing in C minor. I find this a very vulnerable key. I felt, in this suite, after everything that had gone on, and in the key I was in, that I was offering my heart up on a platter. Imagine standing completely naked in a room, with all your love handles, and stretch marks, and moles on view to a group of people and saying – well, this is it. This is me. That’s how I felt.

I walked off stage relieved. And very pleased with the Sarabande. That was really great, I thought. And there were some other really good bits. I was also proud of the fact I’d pulled myself together – fallen over at the start, with that double stop, but kept going. And I was also really proud of the event itself. The painting was amazing. The theatricality of the whole event was fabulous. My painter friend had created the most amazing artwork.

And then, after it was all over, and I was piecing myself together, someone came up to me, and said ‘Well, shame about that double stop at the start’ and then laughed. If you have read this far, please don’t stop now.
Remember this – every performer hears their mistakes. Their ears are trained for that. And we are trained to remember what we do wrong. (In fact, we’ll completely blow it out of proportion.) You don’t need to tell us. Especially not straight after a performance where, as a player, I have offered you my soul, with all its flaws.
Tell me those things in a few days, when I’ve pieced myself together.

I could have punched this person right in the face. Really hard. With all my heart. They didn’t need to say what they did. Did they say that to make themselves feel better? To remind me that they were older than I, and that I used to hold them in such high regard? Were they even thinking about the consequences of their comments?

Who knows.

I came home, in tears. But I have now pieced myself together. Life goes on. The sun rose in the morning. And it was one small glitch. The actual event was something that was fabulous – and I was really proud of it. Many other people have said such positive things. I know that doing something like what we did isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. And you can’t please everyone all the time. In fact, you can’t please many people if you push boundaries.

But I am proud of it. And pleased with it (apart from my shaky start), and have agreed to do it again. I need to get it better.

But I won’t be inviting that person to anything for a while.