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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June 6, 2018

The magical current between you and your audience

Posted in Connecting with readers, Creativity, music and writing, Peak Experiences, performance, publication, Success tagged , , , , , , at 6:33 am by Rebecca Hein

Whether we are musicians or writers, we all want to spark a fire between us and our audiences. This has happened to me in both cello playing and writing, and these experiences are so exhilarating that I always want to repeat them.

Although there’s no formula, these events have elements in common—between music and writing as well as from one occurrence to another. All these episodes have been exciting, and I did nothing to induce them. This means I did not “play to the crowd.”

In playing to the crowd, we try to please rather than calling on our deepest passions to tell us what to write or how to perform. So, although I’ve learned not to try to please the audience, once that magical current begins to sizzle between us, I react spontaneously to continue the intensity of that live connection.

February 8, 2018

Why Crime and Punishment is a Better Novel than War and Peace, and Why Writers Should Care

Posted in Creativity, Fiction Writing, Peak Experiences tagged , , , at 2:52 pm by Rebecca Hein

These days, highly intellectual novels such as Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Tolstoy’s War and Peace aren’t likely to attract many readers. “Too long and boring; too full of unpronounceable Russian names;” these are a few of the objections I’ve heard inside my own head, and from others. However, my reading habits seem to be subject to a stronger force than the legitimate desire of a reader to be entertained.

It’s the same phenomenon I encounter when listening to a wonderful piece of music. That beautiful concerto, sonata, or folk song reaches deep inside me and sets up an enduring memory of the experience and a craving for more.

How did the composer do that to me? I always wonder this, and have wondered the same when a writer pulls me so deeply into his or her story that I forget where I am.

This is another form of the perennial question, What is a great work of art, and how do we recognize it? If you want to write, you need the answer. Both Crime and Punishment and War and Peace can help us learn some of what we want to know.

June 27, 2012

Perfect Moments, Part Four

Posted in Peak Experiences, Practice Writing tagged , at 2:12 am by Rebecca Hein

How do you induce a state of mind where you write your best? The answer lies in your subconscious, which responds beautifully to “down time” and indirect work.

This is why practice writing is so valuable. It releases you from conscious effort to write well. In practice writing, you’re generating words with no purpose other than flow. Your brain doesn’t have to work at all, yet you’re still writing.

This dichotomy, in which you’re doing two semi-related things at once, will help you practice the similar paradox of wanting to write your best while not grabbing for it.

June 20, 2012

Perfect Moments, Part Three

Posted in Creativity, Depth, Peak Experiences tagged , , at 3:47 pm by Rebecca Hein

The art of not grabbing for your best work has to be practiced just like any other skill. It’s a state of mind where you must balance your desire to write well with a complete release of that hope.

This may feel impossible, but it probably isn’t any harder than musical performance, where you want to play your best, yet know that this very goal will defeat you if it is foremost in your mind. To get lost in the music, forgetting everything else, is the way to play your best.

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