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  • Writer's pictureCraig Birchfield

What is your Motivation?

I ran across a very interesting article in the August 2015 issue of Strings Magazine by double bassist Barry Green. I thought I might purloin …er, summarize a few of his ideas and maybe add a few of my own. Mr. Green says that the most powerful music that we encounter has a strong emotional connection. Most of us can think of a piece of music or a specific performance or concert that truly moved us emotionally. Because of this we felt a real connection with the music and probably with the performers as well. Green states, “music is best communicated when you feel something… Music conveys feeling, and it conveys them so richly that our mood lifts and our bodies respond.”

One of the greatest challenges that we have as music makers is our focus. What are we focusing on and what is our motivation when we play? Is it mechanics – to have perfect intonation, meter and to emulate the accepted interpretation of the piece? Is it to bask in the appreciation of the audience and their applause? Is it for peer approval? Is it to find a connection with the audience and touch their hearts? Green says, “If you aspire to feel the transmission of musical energy between audience and musician, you’ll find a big difference between the quality of the music you make when your goal is to bring attention to yourself as a performer and when your aim is to reach, touch, move, elevate, and inspire your audience.”

No matter what the style of music I’ve found a tendency in players, as they reach a certain level in their ability, to start performing as much for the kudos of their fellow musicians as the benefit of their audiences. This can be a slippery slope since musicians and audiences are not always on the same page. In the area of serious music it can be a double edged sword. It is not just fellow musicians that your are trying to impress but the gatekeepers that you need to reach to further your career. If you don’t hit certain benchmarks or win competitions in classical music you may not get the scholarship, the faculty position or the first chair in the section. This can cause us to concentrate more on technical excellent than on communication. We should work on the former without neglecting the latter. Barry confronts the conundrum, “How should you balance the feeling of music-making and touching an audience with the technical demands and stresses of competition? When your feelings well up inside, they naturally encourage you do to your best.” In other words we will excel in performance when we play with both our hearts and our minds, with passion and talent. Also, a life spent exploring our unlimited human potential and our ability to touch hearts and lives with transcend the temporary ego boost and high of winning a competition. Eyes on the prize but let’s not loose sight of what is really important.

If you’ve read my blogs you probably know that I believe that music is a gift from God to touch both our minds and our emotions. Why else should mere vibrations of air so move us with joy or heartache – in fact, touch the whole range of human emotions. Music is a gift. We always need to be aware of the bigger picture – not just what we are doing but why are we doing it.

Keep Practicing,

Craig Birchfield

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