Can you name the best performances that you’ve ever seen?
Here are some of mine:
- Earth, Wind and Fire; Tucson, AZ
- Fruit; Bethlehem, PA and Tucson, AZ
- The Red Elvises; Bethlehem, PA
- Chanticleer; Scottsdale, AZ
- Bruce Springsteen (on a DVD); New York, NY
Of course, your list will be different than mine, but here’s the point; while preparing for your recital, you can and should draw inspiration from your favorite performances regardless of genre.
As your prepare for your recital, don’t compare yourself exclusively to other art song recitalists, but think of bands, singer/songwriters, instrumentalists, musicals, plays, dance performances and so on. Think of the journey those performances took you on and see how close you can get to constructing something just as ambitious.
Be Creative…even with Rules
If you are doing a senior or graduate recital, then you will have certain rules that you have to abide by. That’s fine. Just increase your creativity. Be more imaginative and ask “What would Bruce Springsteen (or your personal equivalent) do?” After all, Bruce Springsteen certainly operates under certain rules that exist for rock performers. Nevertheless:
He would make his audience feel happy to be there.
Do you think that you can’t make your audience feel happy in a classical song recital with a few rules on top? Of course you can!
Perhaps, you have let others tell you what music you should love out of the vast canon of Western music. Perhaps you believe that the perfect form of an art song recital was dictated by God near the beginning of the 20th century and any variations would be tantamount to blasphemy. Perhaps you think that the music is so incredible that your only responsibility is to get the notes out and hope that they work magic.
Stop that. Take control of your musical destiny.
How to analyze a performance for your genre
Ask some broad questions about your favorite performances to learn what worked. Look for broad answers that apply across different genres. For example it would be useless, if analyzing the Red Elvises, to focus on their funny Russian sounding rockabilly songs and then lament that there is no art song equivalent. Look at the big picture. How did they use their songs? What kind of songs (happy, sad, epic, funny) and when (beginning, finale)? And so on.
Here’s an example again using Bruce Springsteen:
Who is performing?
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
Where are they?
When in the performance am I analyzing?
Entrance and first song.
What song is it?
“My Love Will Not Let You Down”.
For those who don’t know “My Love Will Not Let You Down”, it’s an upbeat song with a fairly catchy refrain. It’s not the best song Bruce Springsteen ever wrote, but that’s ok. It’s relatively simple (especially compared to some of his other more sweeping songs), and it has a positive message.
Why this song?
This song warms up the audience as well as the performers. Because it’s so upbeat, the audience does not have to decipher any deep meaning that they probably aren’t ready to deal with anyway. It gives a kind of thesis statement for the evening: “My love will not let you down, so let’s rock out and have a good time.” In other words, there’s nothing wrong with fun here.
How do they perform it?
They look genuinely happy to be there. They greet the audience warmly by walking on the stage in pairs with arms around each other. They show off a few musical tricks that aren’t too hard but are still fun. They give a sense of the relationships between all the performers. I keep thinking fun fun fun fun fun…
When I apply these lessons, then certain repertoire is automatically eliminated. You can bet that you will never see me begin a recital with a sacred Bach cantata that contains the word “Blut”. I should choose a song that is fun, upbeat, and not too hard for me to sing or for the audience to understand. This should not be the best song of the evening.
It also gives me a sense of stage issues. Relationships are important, so I should take some time on my entrance and really greet the audience. I should allow the pianist to receive some personal recognition.
Try this for an entire performance of a performance that you admire. You may reach different conclusions. Fabulous. Run with them.
Copy the Greats. To be the Best YOU.
You are trying to copy and learn from those performers and performances that have inspire you, regardless of their genre. But that’s as far as it should go. Beware of falling into the trap of then comparing yourself to them. Even though I am trying to learn from performers like Bruce Springsteen, it would be crazy to negatively judge myself after my performance because I am not Bruce Springsteen. I never will be. And neither will you ever be your particular idol.
But you can learn a few things to help you be the best YOU.
[What do you think? Have you ever consciously looked outside of your genre for inspiration and guidance? Please share with a comment.]
[Photo by Craig O’Neal under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License 2.0.]