The question always is:
What is that intangible thing that distinguishes a good performer from a great one?
Audiences can immediately sense it, no matter how educated or un-educated they are in music. This seems to include casting directors (even though they can be swayed by politics or recognition), grandmothers (although they would never admit it if it wasn’t their grandchild that was the exceptional one), and classical music amateurs and critics (who are probably the most objective).
To approach my exploration of this question in a roundabout way, I want to share with you a story.
A few months ago, I suffered a knee injury whose cause seemed inexplicable. The doctors at the sports injury clinic were hesitant to give a solid prediction about my knee, although they did mention the meniscus (the cartilage between the two bones of the leg). The doctors recommended an MRI just to be sure of the verdict, before they allowed a surgeon to touch my knee.
While I was waiting for the MRI, I decided to see a woman who specializes in acupressure healing (similar to acupuncture, but using touch instead of needles). She explained to me that pain was simply a buildup of energy, and using her methods of acupressure, she was able to alleviate the pain in my knee. Now comes the juicy part: with her thorough knowledge of the human body and ability to send build-ups of energy (pain), she was able to tell me exactly which part of my knee had been injured (which she said was a specific part of my meniscus and a small ligament juste à coté).
I decided to bring this specific information back to my doctor at the sports injury clinic, just to see what she thought of the whole acupressure system and its accuracy. After I explained my story, she said with a sigh, ‘You know, most surgeons used to be able to read people’s bodies like that, too. Now only the experienced (read: almost retired) ones can.’
When I mention about energy, or energies in people (or sometimes places or things), many people seem apprehensive at best. The idea that there is something in ourselves that we are not aware of and that affects those around us is a little bit frightening, and not everyone believes that it even exists. However, when this concept is further explored, you will find that there are many different names for the same type of thing: shakras, energy centres, chi, positive vs. negative energy, good vs. evil…. the list goes on. It would be hard to deny that all of these ideas are bogus. It would also be hard to deny that in the art of stagecraft, the ability to alter the prevailing energy in the room could come in quite handy.
This could also be one explanation for acute stage fright. Why is it that there are some horrible musicians that manage to walk onstage without the slightest fear, whereas some very fine musicians freeze when they get onstage? I am going to venture a guess that it has alot to do with the performer’s sensitivity to the immense task she has in front of her: to use her musical abilities to generate a very specific energy not only in herself, but in the bodies of everyone in the room and in the space itself. Perhaps those with a high sensitivity to energies that exist in bodies and spaces (read: those that are potentially Great Performers) are those that become the most anxious about performing. Perhaps we need to start giving these performers concrete tools to help them deal with the challenges they face in a performing situation – because we will be missing out on their understanding of us, the audience, if we don’t.