Saturday, August 01, 2015

LIVE! And in the moment.

Practicing, circa 1980

There is something special about performing. My first exposure, like most peoples, was in the school play, or first school musical presentation, but back then I was still learning my craft, insanely nervous, or just goofing around with friends, and not in the moment. My first real taste of that something special was when I was 14 or 15 and my dad had me sit in on drums with a jazz pianist at a restaurant we were at. My parents had divorced when I was 6 and I only got to see my dad at holiday time - Christmas, Easter, the summer holidays, etc.. Of course I wanted to show Dad what I could do. He never got to hear me play.
My old 4 piece, 1960's Olympic kit
with additional hanging toms, all in the attic!
Circa 1980.

I had been playing drums since aged 11 and had got my first kit when I was 12. I played mostly rock and roll and pop, but I also played along to a few jazz l.p.'s that were in our house. I would take my record player and amp up to the attic where my blue, 1960's Olympic drum kit was housed, plug in my headphones and bash along to whatever records I took up with me. That was it, right there. At the time I had not played with another musician, unless you counted the time I played in the school band, which I really don't! So we were in this restaurant eating and my dad persuades the pianist to let me play on the drum kit which was there. I was insanely nervous and unprepared. It was not a school audience, but total strangers. I was not performing with peers and friends, but a professional pianist. I had no idea what tunes we were going to play. I think my dad knew the piano player.

Painted Bass Drum, and yes that is a cow bell for a leg!
And the drum sticks are in a Wellington boot!
The pianist asked me for a song I knew and I said, Tiger Rag. I knew this from a live recording of Louis Armstrong and had played it a number of times on my own.  It's a crazy upbeat number, lots of fun. But being jazz, the pianist either played a completely different song, or played a totally different version. Of course, it's jazz! I hung in there. The pianist played another tune and I fell into the music, lost myself to the piano. In storytelling it is called riding the elusive dragon, an image I love and think totally captures the feeling. Some people call it on-form or being on, in the game, or in the moment. It is a place of beauty and magic.

Performing live gives you a high, a buzz, a thrill. But more than that, it connects you with your audience in a way that is unique to performance. You are them, they are you. Some rock musicians say it is better than procreation. I am not sure I can say that is true with storytelling, but it is pretty darn good. This connection is almost spiritual. It connects you with people in ways unlike any other. Ask yourself how you felt after going to a great concert, or what you were feeling after hearing a professional storyteller and were moved in some way by what they were doing.

It turns out we have a similar, quite possibly less intense, experience when we have meaningful conversations. Science had proved there is a very close connection during storytelling. Storytellers and listeners have been hooked up to brain scanners to see how the brain works, and lights up. Since this 2010 experiment other studies have been done with storytelling. These have shown that the listener and speaker are so in tune with one another that the brain scans show the listener almost anticipates what is going to happen. That is a truly close relationship you're having with a stranger!

Musicians can be seen doing this with each other when jamming. Playing some tune, the guitarist might change accent and rhythm slightly and the drummer and bassist are right on it. Even though it wasn't planned and completely off the cuff, the other musicians felt what was coming and went with that feeling. To the audience it might have sounded rehearsed and well practiced, but it is a spontaneous event of 'magic', if you will. Comedians doing great improv can and do experience these moments. I am sure sports folks also have this moment.

Storytelling has that connection, but instead of with a colleague on the stage, the shared moment is with the listener. Sometimes, when we do our job and the 'planets are aligned', the elusive dragon flies into the space, we jump on its back and ride with the audience, and everyone is transported. Obviously a controlled environment gives the opportunity for this more than a hot and humid room filled with over-heated children, and distracted camp councilors, but it can happen in those places at those times. Then, (under far from perfect circumstances) it is truly magical, it is a magnificent ride with the story. The colours are bright, the smells of the story are strong, and nothing else in the room, or outside the room matters. And later, after the gear is packed up and you're driving home, you know you reached people, and there is that high, buzz, thrill. Maybe you gave the audience a little more joy, maybe more understanding about the world we live in, for all its horrors and hardships. And in those mystical moments we are taken somewhere else, far away and are who we want to be, if only for a moment.
In the moment of joy, July 2015!


Norah D said...

You really articulate the energy exchange and emotions of this performer! Nicely done.

Bgood said...

I don't live in this world as a performer, but as a listener, I know just what I make of what I think you mean!
Thank you so much! Bambi