Reflections on “performance”

Yesterday, I met up with an old friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) for an early happy hour drink.  I was surprised to hear that he had taken up the interest of writing jokes. The more I spoke to him about his pursuit in being a comic, the more I found it similar to my world in performance, particularly on the toy piano.

The artistry of being a good comic is obviously one that involves more than just good jokes, but also good performance. I asked him if he would ever consider printing these jokes in a book form ( perhaps something like David Sedaris) or writing for an actor, for example. He said that part of it was about getting up on stage and doing it yourself: You have nothing to hide behind and there is not another person/actor that will bear the pain of embarrassment if the jokes fail. It is the truest form, I suppose, of “putting yourself out there.”

The other thing about jokes ( so I’m told) is that the bottom-line goal is laughter–How a comic is doing on stage should be audible by the sounds of the audience. This particular aspect made me think a lot about music performances. I sometimes feel a connection to the audience that feels very alive, but am unsure how it is actually being received. I have played many concerts where the feedback I get afterwards seems completely surprising and nothing like what I thought I experienced. It has taught me that people hear what they want to hear, regardless of what I am doing. Most of the time, our reactions to performances depend solely on what we have experienced in our life that serves as a point of reference. I sometimes wonder, how open are we really to listening to one another?

I have often felt that my music , in some sense, is just a big “inside joke.” It makes sense to the people who know me that have already accepted me into their hearts for one reason or another. Just as some of the best jokes are the ones that are shared among friends, I feel some of the best concerts are also the ones performed by people  that I already have a relationship/point of reference.

All of this reminds me of a quote by John Cage when he was writing the prepared piano piece, Perilous Night. He said, “I had poured a great deal of emotion writing this piece, and obviously I wasn’t communicating this at all. Or else, I thought, if I were communicating, then all artists must be speaking a different language, and thus only speaking for themselves. The whole musical situation struck me more and more as a Tower of Babel.”