Updated: Feb 17
I observe that when I enter into music, either as a player of my piano or a listener to another person or group, I am participating in an exchange. I'm not the only one to think that.
British pianist Paul Lewis recently said: "I came to understand that music needs people – if there is no one to experience it, then what is music? It would just be notes on a page. Music is really a social interaction and an exchange. When you perform music at a concert, the audience participates and becomes a crucial part of the experience. The remote way we all lived our lives for some time has helped me understand that."
There are three components to that exchange.
First, there is the substance of the exchange, second, the ethereal, spiritual quality of that exchange, and third, and often, there is pain in it.
The pain I sometimes feel in listening to a newly-discovered piece of music, or the way a particular musician expresses themselves, or even on occasion when I play a piece whose melody speaks deeply and clearly to me, is of course, an ecstatic feeling, and yet, that kind of pain hurts, sometimes deeply. Perhaps you know of what I speak?
In thinking about that pain, I remembered my favorite sculpture that expresses visually what I mean, Bernini's Ecstasy of Teresa. You can find many pictures of this statue on the web.
So what is the substance of the exchange to which I refer?
When we listen to music that we or another person creates, when we engage in that presentation in private at home or in concert performances, something is being exchanged.
I am not referring to a monetary payment such as a ticket price; that is a matter aside from my topic. When we listen to ourselves play, or to others play, when we particularly relate to and enjoy a composition a composer or arranger has gifted to the world, we pay the price of giving a piece of our heart or soul to the venture. We give our time to listen. We give our willingness to learn something being said or taught. We sit in appreciation of and for the musical product, or the performer's effort, or what we understand the composer, in all of their bravery and brilliance, is saying or telling us.
The price I pay, the nature of the exchange involved when I engage deeply and openly in music, is always something I value and feel privately about. I feel it even if only one friend sits and listens to me play. That person contributes to the exchange, the gift of patient listening and taking me in; they give me the gift of witnessing me in my delight.
On my part I hope there is some resonance, that they see something of my "message" and gift to them. I want them to experience it as positive and hopeful, even if sometimes music calls forth wistful or sad feelings. I want my listener to see or feel something of themselves in what I express. It is a human connection that I seek to weave, enhance for them, and personally enter into thru music as I, and they, experience it in many forms and delights.
Sometimes it's just one of my two black cats who curls up on the entrance hallway rug near my piano in the living room. They are listening to me play, I am certain! One evening when I had completed practicing one piece and was changing to another, my partner, Ron, pointed out that our cat, Prince, had walked underneath The Duchess and curled up to go to sleep. He remained there for at least an hour as I played. Perhaps he was channeling George Sand, who is well known for her practice of relishing her lover Chopin's playing, by crawling under his piano to listen? Whenever a friend comes by to visit and they play my piano, I, too, love to get underneath to listen!
When I play for a friend, I give the gift of my effort to find and bring forth courage, trusting my listener and doing my best to fully enter into and express my music love. The miracle of entering into music I do more easily these days after some 18 months of lessons. I talk about that process a bit in one of my former blogs.
What has been perhaps the most meaningful thing in any musically-related relationship that has come to me since my return in mid-2020 to music and the piano, including when a friend is willing to receive and read any poem I write, or perhaps return with a helpful question or comment to not only support my endeavor, but help me hone the substance or form of it, is that my listener, or reader, "receives" me. They give me permission to express myself, and sometimes seem to "hear" what I am trying to say. If and when that happens, I feel particularly supported and validated, although that is not a requirement for any creative expression to issue forth--to be sure.
Still, it is more than just "icing on the cake." It means that they have understood a part of me. They have participated in a significant exchange with me, and on my part, it will never be forgotten. # # #