I love the fact that anyone can choose, should they desire, to learn something from anything, anywhere, anytime. I'm a thinker so my "aha" moments tend to fill my days and nights so when this past week my husband and I decided to go on a little getaway to nearby Staunton, Virginia, I very purposefully set out to make this an "aha-free" vacation.
You can guess how that little experiment went.
|Photo by Mogens Engelund,|
from Wikimedia Commons
The place of my most terrible intellectual crime occurred at a glassblower's studio downtown called Sun Spots Studios. It is one of those places where you can actually sit and watch artists at work. I don't know how long we were in there, maybe 20 minutes or so, but I was completely mesmerized the entire time watching this artisan work with glass and I walked out of there with my mind buzzing. What I was most obsessed with were the similarities I was seeing between blowing glass and performing a piece of music. Here is a rough recreation what went through my mind.
- I wonder if he gets frustrated trying to make the object he is making perfect - I'm not sure if all glassblowers work like this, but the one we were watching worked really quite quickly and I could tell that while he was rolling the glass or shaping the glass, he was constantly assessing the state of his piece of art. But probably because of the fact that he was dealing with molten glass that was quickly cooling and hardening, he couldn't spend much time analyzing what to do next. He seemed to stay in a constant state of motion, acting perhaps on his gut reactions instead. Perhaps in performances, this is also a healthy state of being. Not dwelling on what isn't quite right but instead trusting my body, my mind, my ears to react in an artful, appropriate way.
- Can a piece of hand-blown glass even be perfect? What would a perfectly blown piece of glass look like? - A piece of glass made by an artisan is a piece of art. And that piece of art is all about a creative process, about the engagement between an artist and a piece of material, in this case, molten glass. So is perfection even really an issue? I don't think it can be. Watch a glassblower and you'll see why. It is hard stuff to work with and can vary based on the weather, the humidity, or the temperature. It became clear to me very quickly that producing a perfect piece of art would be impossible. And isn't this the case as well with music? Is there a point in being "perfect" or is it the process, the creative process, the personal touch of the musician that is what causes someone in the audience to listen and say, "Ah, yes...this speaks to me."
- Does the glassblower have an idea in his head of what he wants to end up with in the end? - While he was working, the glassblower narrated a bit of what was going through his mind as he worked. As he started, he picked several colors of glass chips that he wanted to incorporate into his creation but as those colors started to melt into the molten glass he started with, he kept saying things like, "Hmmm...it's not ending up quite as red as I had thought it would" or "This all may end up a lot brighter after it cools." So I gather from these insights into his process, that he may have had a very general idea of what he wanted, he knows the techniques behind his art, but in the end, he didn't really know how it was going to turn out. Perhaps this would be an interesting approach to performing as well. Instead of planning out every dynamic, every nuance, every sound that I want to hear on stage, perhaps it would be better to accept that art can only be planned so much in advance. Maybe leaving some mystery in the end result can be a good thing and would relieve some of the pressure to have in the end a perfect, as-planned product.
- What does a glassblower do when something doesn't go quite as planned? - One of the last parts the glassblower worked on was the vase's neck and opening. Using a blow torch to concentrate heat on that specific part, he kept trying to shape the opening as evenly as possible. Throughout the process he kept shaking his head, reheating, and trying again. It seemed he couldn't get it quite as narrow and short as he wanted. In the end, he seemed to quickly change his mind, reshaping the opening to be fluted instead of being just a smooth circular opening. Having watched the whole process, I knew that this was a bit of an improvisation on his part but for any other visitor, who hadn't seen it, they wouldn't know that the fluted opening was, in some ways, a "mistake." Audiences don't know what is in my mind before I go up on stage so who's going to know if I need to improvise a bit here and there? And in the end, whatever I end up with will be a piece of art.
- A glassblower's creations don't disappear after being created - they are sent to the showroom, to galleries, to be admired and sold. I imagine there are some pieces that never make it past the studio, but at least at this studio, it seems that most of what is created ends up before the eyes of others, and for a very long time. They are not hidden away, or considered embarrassing because of tiny flaws, an unexpected hue, or lack of perfect symmetry. They are all pieces of art and they all have the possibility of catching someone's eye. If glassblowers can release all of their creations in this way, than why shouldn't I? Why should I feel sheepish about performing a less-than-perfect program, especially since in a perfect program is, in my mind, impossible anyway. Instead, I should create and release that creation knowing full well that it has the capability to mean something to someone.
Create and release. Accept that there are other factors involved in the creation of a piece of art other than myself and release myself from the need to be a perfect creator. Perhaps if I can do these things I'll be less squeamish about sitting and listening to my own musical performances with a more accepting ear.
The things I learn on vacation. When I'm not supposed to be thinking.
Sigh...maybe next time.
Sigh...maybe next time.