Ladies and gentlemen, I am back…finally! So, what is my topic for my first post back? Timing! It’s funny, last night I went to A Little Nightmare Music concert. Musical comedy…it’s all about timing. In a funny turn of events some of my friends and I had perfect timing last night, too, but perfect timing one night, one run-through, it doesn’t necessarily translate to the next day.
How do we emulate good, great, or perfect timing on a repeatedly? I don’t mean rhythmic timing, I mean musical timing, the timing that makes a performance great, memorable. I believe the real trick to learning musical timing comes from not only watching, but listening to actors, dancers, and vocalists speak on the subject.
Actors, dancers, vocalstis/singers, they all think slightly differently than instrumentalists, typically. They think about how they use their bodies in a different manner. The physicality of what they do in addition to the theatrics of their craft are applied differently than traditional instrumentalists apply these aspects to music. Each discipline approaches the idea a little differently.
Keep in mind, this is only my perspective on the subject and my understanding of the arts is that all are designed to examine and attempt to understand the human condition whether it is love, fear, anxiety, beauty, or ugliness. (Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht is pretty much the perfect example of all of these: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-pVz2LTakM). Acting, in some respects, has the easiest time representing each of these because the actors, like singers, are tied to text, vocal inflection, and phsyical expression. Therefore, both actors and vocalists can use both elements to help there timing. Still, a good actor or vocalist can convey their meaning, and therefore their timing, without the physical, through the emotion and the dynamic fluctuation in their voice. It helps, of course, when the play-write, author, or lyricist provides text that jumps from the page without an intermediary, but a great interpreter can make a phone book interesting.
Part of this comes not from the physicality of the artist, but from awareness of their surroundings. One of my favorite parts of Dancing With the Stars was the finale episode when Meryl Davis and Charlie White danced together off ice. If you watch carefully, near the end, Charlie nearly falls out of a turn when he has Meryl aloft. She’s paying attention and you can tell; she unknowingly compensates for his loss of balance and they finish their performance beautifully. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=au4G6sUnjQM Akin to this, a great actor or comedian can react to an audience or fellow cast-mate immediately, if they need to start improvising. This is one of the reasons, I believe, classical musicians are pushing their students to practice improvisation on a regular basis this days.
So, what can instrumentalists take away from all of this? My impression is: that being able to react to an emotional cue is the key. Being able to convey what you feel to the audiniece is critical and knowing the piece well enough to adapt it to how you feel on a given night is crucial, but beyond that, we must learn to adapt to audience cues. We can use trigger words for ourselves to get a general idea of what we believe a piece is trying to convey, but it’s the back-and-forth between soloist-orchestra-and audience that truly makes a performance. We must be confindent enough in our technique and musicality to do this, but also confident enough in ourselves to bear our souls to people we don’t know. It’s hard and it’s scary, but the pay off is, ultimately, worth it. It takes practice (and courage), as you can see in any of the great performers, but at the right time, it will happen, because remember: timing is everything.