Performance: The Ultimate Form of Expression Part I

  • 09/29/2016
  • JamPlay, LLC
The idea of musical performance as an art form dates back many thousands of years but frankly its origins are unknown. Many anthropologists speculate that early peoples dwelling in caves began to experiment with the percussion of rocks and other simple utensils in an effort to produce sounds accordant to others, and drawings found upon cave walls have confirmed this. But one might ask “can the banging of two rocks together for the relative enjoyment and subsequent grunts and howls of onlookers be considered performance?” Some would respond in the affirmative citing examples through history that support the idea that any action that pleases, amuses or otherwise distracts others from the tedious and dull routines of their mundane lives (from court jesters to Roman gladiators to modern-day performance art) could be considered performance. From this standpoint then even the simple act of making a snide joke in fourth-period-English to the delight of indolent and slack-jawed classmates could be considered a type of performance; or a deranged mad-man spouting profanities and predicting the ultimate demise of the civilized world to onlookers on the street.

But on the other end of the spectrum are those who support the idea that performance is art and demands a certain amount of dedication, creativity and brilliance from the performers. These same advocates might likely support the idea that performance requires a great many years of practice in a given area and countless endeavors in various venues sometimes receiving no pay and little or no accolades from its patrons. That is not to say that the aspiring comedian testing the waters to his fellow classmates (and his wearied instructor) or the bleary-eyed prophet raving on the street may not have some of the aforementioned characteristics, and may or may not advance their crafts to inevitably receive the much coveted fame and applause that culturally marks success in our time. Performance is a subjective and multi-faceted notion and certainly includes forms not involving music such as comedy, sports and even pugilism. But for the purposes of our discussion we will focus on musical performance and the steps necessary to become the most dynamic and powerful performer that you as a musician can be.

Types of Performers

The Soloist
There are a number of different types of musical performers and the simplest and most obvious form is the soloist. The soloist, simply stated, is an individual who performs by him or herself using any of a number of instruments and often accompanying his or herself with vocal accompaniment. In essence, we all begin as soloists because in order to play well with others we must first develop our own skills, our own style and our own musical personas. How we develop on these levels is a personal matter and each performer develops in a unique and individual fashion. For example, through years of listening to music, listening to and playing with other musicians and perhaps even taking lessons, each of us develops style, inflection, and subtle innuendos in our guitar playing and/or vocal development. Even the songs we choose to play and the volume at which we perform are reflections of the way we have (and are currently) developing as soloists.

In a sense, the manner in which we develop as a soloist is a manifestation of who we are as people and the trials and tribulations that we as human beings have undergone in our lifetimes. Many performers who are calm and peaceful in their day-to-day lives and their interactions with people tend to be calm as well in their manner of performance. And contrarily, many aggressive and angry people tend to reflect those facets as well in their performances. This, of course, is not a hard and fast rule and there are certainly many individuals who’s behavior would challenge the nature of these generalizations. It’s also extremely important to note at this point in our discussion that many angst-ridden and aggressive people have learned to channel (we’ll talk more about channeling later) their anger in a constructive and passionate way to make them incredible performers while some shall we say, “placid” people, might be criticized for not having the passion and fire necessary to be a great performer. But regardless of the intrinsic relationship between your personal emotions and your means and manner of performing, there does seem to be a strong correlation between personal development and performance development.

And certainly we can look back and deconstruct our personal experiences and perhaps bear witness to the events that have come to create (and are still creating) the performers that we have grown into. How have individual events, both positive and negative come to affect you as the performer you are today? From my perspective I tend to look at some of the familial experiences that I suffered as a child and adolescent, and how those facets of my upbringing shaped me and eventually led me to my first truly creative endeavors. I wrote this song when I was sixteen:
I Go On by Mark Lincoln.
I kissed my love, and she kissed me goodbye
And in the haze of our parting I began to cry so I go on
Like a breath or the wind I go on
To begin and to end I go on
For the time I can say I’m in love any way and I
Kissed my love again and she kissed me and smiled, and I knew right
away every kiss said goodbye every inch was as good as a mile
She had loved me all the while
So I go on like a breath or the wind I go on to begin and to end I go on
For the time I can say I’m in love anyway and I kissed my love again.
My angst as a teenager, confusion concerning the nature of familial love, and despair over the loss of my father all came into play as I began to construct my first poems, some of which recapitulated events from my childhood, at least from a figurative perspective. I drew from my experiences, using my angst my pain and turmoil, and my subsequent development as a person coincided with my development as a poet, an artist, a musician and a performer.

The concept of channeling most certainly comes into play here. Channeling is simply (or not so simply) the act of redirecting an intense state of emotion into song, verse, melody, performance. It is a method that can be both helpful as a songwriting tool and as a performance tool as well and can also be a highly effective way to work through periods of stress and grief. Many passionate and intense performers have gone through difficult periods of their lives characterized by grief and loss (but who hasn‘t right?), and have learned to channel or divert their emotions into more positive and creative endeavors including their performances. Channeling can be discovered by allowing oneself to fully experience the emotions associated with life whether it’s the ultimate rapture of childbirth, or the heartbreaking and abject sadness of losing a loved one. It requires the individual to make full contact with the emotions at hand by thinking about those experiences and using those emotions, feeling them in their entirety regardless of the pain associated with them. Many musicians go through this process with guitar or other instruments in hand to allow their emotions to be directly transferred into their instrument of choice. Others, including writers, undergo this process on paper and with their favorite pen by their sides. But regardless of your means of expression, becoming intimately familiar with your emotions can make them more accessible to you from a cognitive perspective as well as emotional perspective. And once you have become more familiar with those emotions and have lessened your fears and trepidation surrounding them, you have already begun to use them, mold them, channel them into something that you may be able to use during those all-important performance moments.

Because many are prone to repress emotion due to its uncomfortable nature, or because of stigma associated with the expression of emotion in our culture, they are often reticent to express emotion even when alone. This unwillingness or inability to express emotion can be a massive hindrance when it comes to channeling because in essence the individual is not letting go, not allowing themselves the necessary release for healing or the release of vital creative fuel. Without emotion there is nothing to channel and the creative potential of those emotions will forever remain untapped by the individual. Channeling is an extremely important part of becoming a soloist and without the ability to channel emotion into your performance your show may lack the necessary energy and passion to incite the audience. In effect the soloist stands alone and unlike other modes of performance that allow interaction between musicians, the solo performer must rely on his or her own skills and emotions to win the applause of the disbelievers.

Mark Lincoln M.A.