June 13, 2018

Excitement or perfection: Which is more important?

Posted in music and writing, Peak Experiences, performance, Success tagged , , at 5:07 am by Rebecca Hein

If you are a writer or musician and want to connect with your audience, your performance need not be perfect. It just has to be compelling. I discovered this in a memorable concert decades ago in which performers and audience were all swept up in the excitement of the music.

I was playing cello in the Eugene [Oregon] Opera, a community group. Although we were well rehearsed, and had a talented orchestra and cast, our performances were not professional-level. However, that proved irrelevant to the excitement we somehow generated on our last night’s performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. For some unknown reason—over which musicians and writers have no control—the audience was unusually receptive.

That inspired all of us to play, act, or sing better, and before the evening was half over, we had become a more cohesive group. In the orchestra, we responded better to the conductor and to the singers onstage. The singers in their turn relaxed and gained confidence. Best of all, the plot began to roll along as though on its own momentum.

The main character, Don Giovanni, has spent the entire opera seducing women, and in the final climactic scene, a huge statue comes to life and drags him down to Hell. The music is loudest, fastest, and most dramatic at this point, and onstage, smoke billows out of the opening of a trap door through which the statue is dragging Don Giovanni.

The stage crew must have used more dry ice than usual, because the “smoke” filled the orchestra pit and even got to part of the audience. Barely visible through the haze, Don Giovanni and the statue were singing with all their might.

We in the orchestra could feel the terror of the moment, and played with fiendish energy. Excitement crackled between us and the audience, and afterwards we knew we’d outdone ourselves.

During the following years, I gradually figured out what creates a similar effect with the written word.

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