I had the unique privilege of being a model for a local Arts Guild practicing sketching last evening. I performed several pieces for the five artists in attendance, including taking requests, while they took pictures. Then I held one particular pose for three or four twenty-minute sessions, with short breaks in between, while they drew what they saw. I had to maintain the same focal point with my gaze. So, I picked out a nice spot in the wood grain on the opposite side of the room and stared at that as consistently as possible, during the next two hours. Meanwhile, I tried to prevent leg and hand cramps when my leg started twitching from the strain of holding still in the same position that long. It might sound tedious, but I enjoyed it a great deal. The artists made me feel welcome, asking me questions about my experiences with music. Sometimes there was calm and quiet, broken only by the sound of pencils working and pastels rubbing against gritty paper. With windows on all sides of the upper room art studio, there was something serene and beautiful about the whole setting.
It's interesting. When I got ready for this opportunity, I was focused on details. I made sure my necklace matched my shirt, I was careful with my lipstick and mascara, and I made sure to wear music-note earrings and music-note socks. But the details didn't matter much, in the end, for quick sketches like this. What made more of an impact was the medium-sized bits: a facial expression, color and lighting, my selected pose, or how far away my violin was from my face. All these things were what made an impression on them. It made an impression on me how each artist focused on and captured something different in their drawings. One drew a picture of just a piece of the violin and bow. Another artist had a sketch of just my legs in their jeans. Another was pleased with how she was able to capture on paper a particular expression on my face. Ironically, it was almost a relief for me to look back and think that the final products had basically nothing to do with my accessories, and I wouldn't have really had to bother so much with them.
When getting ready to perform a piece of music, we're often similarly focused on details. Does this sound familiar? In conversing with yourself before a performance, you might think to yourself, "Well, it ought to go well . . . if only I can get that one shift!" Or, "I just need to remember the repeat and to cue the pianist!" We forget that so much more goes into the music, and thankfully, so much more gets noticed. Basic things--medium-sized things, like rhythm, melody, tempo, tone, phrasing, dynamics, how straight or fast your bow is, expression, vibrato . . . these are the bits that audiences perceive and care about and that make an overall impression--not the tiny details, like whether or not you flub the one note you were worried about.
Luckily, all these medium-sized bits get practiced into a piece without us hardly noticing them! We kind of take them for granted after years of experience and practice. But sometimes, just sometimes, it's good to step back and notice them, and larger pieces, too. To get a glimpse of the entire scene. To remember that there's distance between us and the audience, which affects perception. To realize that everyone will remember something different, and that's what makes the experience of performing so exciting. And beautiful!