My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Performing - it really is about more than mere numbers

Image from Wikimedia Commons
"How many?"

That's a question I hear a lot in so many different aspects of my life.

"How many followers do you have on twitter?"
"How many friends on facebook?"
"How many people read last night's blog post?"
"How many degrees do you have?"
"How many students do you have?"
"How many people were at the recital?"

I'm going to come right out and say that I really don't like that question because the answer generally means nothing.  The answer means nothing yet it can be so filled with disappointment, a sense of not doing quite well enough, of not feeling worthy.  And with that comes distraction away from what really does matter to me - having opportunities to do what I love to do, doing my best at whatever I put my hand to, acknowledging that I am human and will always have something to learn, building relationships with people around me, building a loving family, and being grateful for all the incredible things life brings my way.  That, to me, is what is important.  

As a professional musician living in a very small town, I don't often have to deal with the numbers game when it comes to performing and I'm thankful for that.  We don't have any venues that seat more than a couple hundred people at a time, if that, and the list of places in which one can perform is quite small.  I'm learning to play whenever, wherever.  Although this reality doesn't necessarily match up to what I envisioned growing up as a young musician in San Francisco, it suits me perfectly.  Living here is encouraging me to discover other ways of evaluating what I do and is taking the pressure off of being a commodity that comes with its own nerve-wracking, unstable and often unreliable statistics.  

Performing in intimate spaces that allow me to actually see the people in the audience; having the time and opportunity to talk with audience members before, during, and after a performance so that I can really sense who they are and what makes them tick; the freedom to play music that I really want to play; breathing room so that I feel like I can try new things, even in a performance situation - these are the things that are keeping me up "on stage," whether or not there's an actual stage, and loving every moment.  

Is this possible elsewhere?  Is my situation unique?  Yes and no, I suppose.  I realize that I am fortunate indeed to be able to work as a musician without worrying about paying the bills.  Thanks to a husband with a full-time job, I don't have to play the numbers game in order to put food on the table.  But I have noticed that the music world is seeing a trend right now with an increase in the number of small venue and alternative performance situations - house concerts, bars, pubs, small concert's a trend that I find very encouraging and exciting.  It also makes me think that I'm not the only musician out there wanting a different scenario for performing, that I'm not the only musician that is about to hurl the abacus out the window.  

So for now, I am going to embrace the evolution my expectations have had in regards to being a performer and I'm going to only bother counting when I'm in the practice room.

Anyone care to join me?


  1. I don't perform, but I've often thought that I'd rather be read by a few people who loved my work than by thousands who read my book with only half their attention and forgot it the very next second.

    Whenever I read your posts, Erica, I always think, she has her priorities straight. So often, people become alienated from their passion by following someone else's path. Not you.

    Thanks for another great read.

  2. Thank you for reading, Sarah. It means a lot to me that someone who isn't necessarily perform or even play music takes the time to read and share on this blog. I think so many of the same issues crosses much of life in general.

    And thanks for thinking I have my priorities straight - I certainly am always trying :-)

    Happy writing to you - your twitter poetry always brings a smile to me face. Art in small form.

    All the best,

  3. This is so true. Numbers are, after all, mere numbers, whether it's twitter or facebook or amount of students, too often our self-worth is tied in to these arbitrary figures. Am I a better piano teacher this month because I have two more students than last? Of course not, but in so many peoples' eyes the more students a teacher has, the more skilled the teacher. And the more followers the musician has, the better the quality and depth of their playing. Utterly wrong. So thank you for posting this! Lynne

  4. Thank you, Lynne, for reading and commenting. I suppose numbers are always going to be a part of technology and the social networking landscape so I figure it never hurts to remind ourselves of the days when we didn't have those statistics and numbers taunting us on a daily basis!

    I've gotten the feeling, since getting to know you, that you have a good head on your shoulder and are quite capable of ignoring some of that craziness. I'm thankful for that!

    Happy teaching and playing, Lynne.


  5. yes I suppose they are, and it is very nice to get tangible validation, just as long as we don't take them too seriously...
    I do hope I have that good head on my shoulders you have such faith in, I know you do!
    happy teaching and playing to you too,
    x Lynne