TO BE OR NOT TO BE
...or how (not) to sell your soul to the Devil Of Performing Arts
Some of the earliest myths and tales of humankind are concerned with a conflicting tendencies of mind: to obey or to defy, to hate or to love, to be afraid or to be courageous. The myth of Prometheus, who, out of his love for people, risked his life against the wishes of Gods - in order to bring to people a knowledge of fire, this myth could serve as a perfect example.
The history of the world of arts and sciences offers us a similar examples - it is just enough to remember Galileo and his struggle under pressures to deny the fact that Earth is revolving around the Sun .How many other, countless examples are there to remind us that our knowledge had its price, and highly priced it was, indeed. The fact that we are still surviving, taking into the account almost insurmountable difficulties we were met with in the past, this fact speaks enough about the vitality of the power that drives us upwards the spiral of time.
We flatter ourselves that we live in a different times today. Do we really?
What are the challenges and risks that face a musician -performer of today ?
The biggest one is - conforming to the "petrification" tendencies. The world of today's artistic music is turning more and more into a mere ritual. We go to the Symphony on Saturday evening, because this is being done. Probably the Beethoven's Fifth, Tchaikovsky's Sixth or Dvorak's "New World" Symphonies are going to be performed. Disregarding whether a performance was inspired or mediocre, there will be three curtain calls. Reason? We have to rush to our cars in a garage or a parking lot, so that we would not be caught in the traffic afterwards.
Everything has to be "labeled", so that it might be "sold" easier. There is a " Classical" music versus "R&B , jazz, ethnic, rap,"etc. Within "Classical" there are a Romantic, Baroque, Classical(again!), Impressionistic "periods"....even composers can not fare without a "sticker" - eternally young and carefree Mozart, revolutionary Beethoven, ethereal Chopin, brilliant Liszt, sparkling Scarlatti...
The "noble" purpose of the so called "Classical" music is , imagine- "relaxation"
Whoever performs on stage must be wearing black..
Recently, a well-known performing artist asked me: "What is your speciality? You know, today everyone must have a speciality..."
For me, it is hard to believe that Classical music is exclusive, and limited when it comes to its message and expression. It is hard to believe that Bach considered himself a Baroque composer, or that, when Beethoven felt something strongly, he said to himself: " I shouldn't feel this much. I have to keep my poise. In the end, I am a Classical composer".
Today we can easily prove the existence of depressive and dark Mozart, witty and amiable Beethoven, obsessive and manic Chopin, nostalgic and poetic Liszt, impressionistic Scarlatti...
No, forgive me ,I don't want to be a specialist, and yes, I like wearing blue or green on stage sometimes.....
When I want to relax, I go to sleep or to the beach, and when I listen to music ,I want music to touch me, to move me, to make me think, wonder, laugh and weep....
So, what is the purpose of these "labeling" practices?
They are two-fold: positive and negative. They can serve as a guardian angel of all worthwhile traditions, to preserve achievements of previous generations, and in this, they are positive.
On the other hand, in today's shrinking world, when people have less and less time and when we are exchanging quality of life for the quantity of life, these stereotypes are "saving" our time, so that we do not need to think, to feel, to ponder. In this, they are profoundly negative, because they are incapacitating us to see and feel the other side of things, the finer points and paradoxes of arts. Gradually we are becoming more and more like parts of some perfect self-maintaining mechanism, parts which in themselves are devoid of a vital moving force.
The biggest danger to a performing artist is, then, to consent to becoming a part of this machinery. This means he will have to play the same 7 pieces over and over again, in every city, until he doesn't really feel anything for them anymore. When you hear one of these performances, you heard them all. He is going to tailor his performance so that it does not reveal too much or too little, and particularly, not to offend or disturb (God forbid, move!) anybody. Someone may want to relax!
By doing this, performers are selling their souls for the success.
Smarter performers are trying to escape this trap of the routine by becoming "interesting", " original" or "eccentric", artificially. They are deceiving themselves, departing from their own essence. These artists are sacrificing their souls at the altar of vanity.
The most difficult, but also the most worthwhile is the position of a true artists. They have to muster a great courage - a courage to be themselves. On one hand, they endure pressures from the society, market, general cultural climate....
On the other, they are tormented by their ideal, which is alluring them only to escape from them the moment they come closer to it. They are wrestling daily with their art, loving it, hating it, despairing over it. It is not a matter of their choice - they are predestined for it - condemned to it.
In the end, they always earn their laurels, sooner or later. Typically, they don't really care for glory. To live a life of an artist is rewarding and punishing enough.