Musical Energy and Playing with other Humans
This summer I had a few gigs, in itself nothing extraordinary. But I've been doing so much orchestral playing, that I kind of forgot how much I dig playing in smaller groups.
It's not chamber music as such, don't get me wrong, that has its place, but when you're there at a wedding or a community function your job is to entertain people, creating a great atmosphere, not being intrusive, but also not necessarily being listened to - it's not really a performance in that sense, but if there is a great spark between the musicians, it will set up a vibe for the event that everyone will love. (Honestly I've done quartet gigs that there has been zero spark, and not only has the music not been great, but the guests hardly even noticed when we finished up)
This summer's gigs were great though. It started off catching up with my old friend Louise from the Beaumont Belles, she's recently come back from exploring Europe (and playing the odd harp along the way). So we hadn't really played together much for a long while, and it may have just been a few classic carols for a Christmas fete, but it was fun, and the visitors loved it, partly the harp has such a dominating presence, but also we both know what the other can do, how our sounds can weave together and when to let the other cut loose and run with it. That's the beauty of a duo really it's so easy to communicate and let the music flow with how you're feeling.
Hot on the heels of that came some pre-concert entertainment for audience members while they enjoyed drinks on the veranda. Myself and some friends, namely my brother Dave on guitar and his mate Earl on a variety of percussion. Again playing familiar Christmas songs, changing up the styles, for example, my personal highlight, a ska version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer...pretty silly but really fun - and credit must go to those two, I was really along for the ride, we weren't taking it super seriously, but they really know what they're doing, enjoying themselves and making a great sound and the atmosphere of the event being as it was familial and relaxed, the audience LOVED it, it set them up for a really good show.
Finally, in the new year, I was asked to fill in at a wedding with other members of The Black Quartet. I've played with a couple of them before but not since the Aotea Youth Orchestra days. It was great catching up with them again. These folks are fabulous musicians, so much energy and connection between them, so coming in like that, for the most part, it was pretty easy to gel in - there were, if I'm honest a couple of numbers where it became apparent I wasn't entirely match fit on my sight reading (....where does that freakin' repeat go back to?!?), but aside from that it all went pretty well.
And it would have been even better had there not been 30kn winds playing havoc with the pages and at one critical moment (as the happy couple walked off down the aisle) knocked my entire folder clean off the stand! Happily my improvisational skills have improved since the old Aotea days. But it's been that long since I've played an outdoor wedding - I didn't even think about pegs, should know better really.
I think at the end of the day, playing gigs like these, with different people, in different places, gives us a bit more freedom to express ourselves. You have to connect with the other players at quite a fundamental level, read the crowd to an extent and deal with unexpected environmental forces. Playing in a larger group in an orchestra or a show is great too, I love the energy, the bigger the better, but it is more prescriptive, we need to follow the conductor, manifest his (or her) interpretation of the work, the performance is a lot more formalised.
Whereas when you are playing in a small group, particularly with people you know well and play with often, you have the liberty to express yourself more freely. Take your emotions of the moment and send out a tear jerking version of O Holy Night, for example, or equally feed off the others energy with a croony version of Embraceable You. The whole experience is a lot more collaborative, and the energy can be a lot more direct, between the players, through the music and out to the guests - a bit more grass roots I guess. And if you are having a good time, so will the guests, even if they are not particularly paying attention.
Performance can take on so many forms it's hard to decide which I like to play best - on reflection, if the collective energy is there it doesn't matter what it is.