(Part I) Application of the Elementals in Performance: A Meditative Path to Captivating the Room
The potential to harmonize and direct an audience exists every time a musician or group of musicians walk on stage. As one gains experience playing live, you come to realize there is an Art and Science to opening the consciousness of a room as a performer. Anyone who has performed on stage enough will recognize the factors of the room, and understand that there are moments when one can shift the consciousness of the room in various directions through an applied action. This is perhaps one of the most important aspects of music; knowing how to hold the audience on the edge of their seats in an array of shifting states of being and emotion, creating excitement or relaxing the mood artfully. A performer’s ability to use music as a means to communicate a vast array of essences and experiences has always been at the core of why various musicians are upheld in certain ways, and why some musicians captivate while others fall flat.
The ideas that I will discuss here are applicable to any performer, regardless of their personal level of playing, and perhaps completely independent of their degree of facility on an instrument. There are great virtuosos who are technically advanced, but something is always missing in their music, and yet others who play very little but the moment they enter the room, the atmosphere moves, and still others who combine both qualities to various degrees. This is because some people have a natural understanding and connection to one of the various elementals, and have spent their life refining their ability to use those elementals (most times unconsciously) through the course of their actions in daily life. This is often done intuitively initially, and then later as one sees how to apply it, they become more adept in directing the energy that they are accustomed to. There are some performers who come out and “light the room on fire” with their passion and intensity, and still others’ connection to the water element make a room feel syrupy and saturate the air with an unstoppable sense of groove. Some are wispy and delicate, light on their feet, while others make the room feel rooted. All of this interplay happens within a given space, and is defined within a timeline. The combination of the intensity and application of these various Elementals in performance are often that which define the musical experience.
To begin, we must gain a basic idea of what the Elementals are and their qualities. In most systems, one would consider four or five basic elemental qualities. I am going to use six basic elemental qualities: Space, Time, Air, Water, Fire, and Earth. Space is the area in which the sonic event will occur, the room, the fabric on which all other elements will play out. It is our canvas upon which our performance will take place. Every time a perceptive performer walks in a room, he is taking note of the dynamics of the Space in the room. This includes obviously the size of a room, but more importantly what is happening with the audience in that room. Does the space feel unfocused and chaotic? Or perhaps prepared and tuned to a given experience via the expectations that exist within that space. What’s the difference in playing the Village Vanguard versus playing a local bar where people are loud and talking over the music that you have started? Each room has a learned expectation, but what is important is that you, knowing that expectation, put yourself in a position to understand the fabric of the room so you can ultimately put yourself in the driver’s seat, directing the experience through the music. Once in this position, a deeper, more engaged experience is possible for both performer and audience.
As musicians, we are always functioning consciously within the realm of Time. Treating Time as an elemental quality may seem an odd choice, but the perception and control of Time is perhaps the most critical element of performance a musician can utilize. When one learns to stretch the grid of time with their lines, the effect upon the listener of other elements can be increased. The music can be used in a manner to make the audience’s perception of time be skewed. A twenty-minute piece, when properly engaged with intent by the musicians, can feel like a five-minute piece. On the contrary, it can also feel like it is going on indefinitely, in which case the musician should recognize this as a sign that something must shift within the music to keep the space within his command. By ignoring this, he risks losing the room to the chitchat mind, and then the whole evening becomes perhaps a chore. A musician has to come to an understanding of the timing of the various peaks in performance; the timing of these peaks can make or break a moment. Many of us have had experience when a solo is peaking, and one of the members of the band moves in a different direction, which deters the timing of THAT note, the one that is the climax. There is also the contrary experience when everyone is in sync, and the room explodes when everyone arrives at the same time, and a wave moves through the entire audience! This is the importance of Time in one dimension, and other ideas can be put forth from this as we play, and develop our sense of it.
copyright SchurgerMusic 2017