Music is a medium that aids us in communication. The skilled combination of pitch, rhythm and inflection can convey emotion in a way that transcends words. We all have vivid memories stored in our minds of moments when we have experienced deep emotions. The right musical performance, even if it is only instrumental (no words) can trigger those memories and cause us to feel those emotions all over again. When the music is combined with the proper words, the affect can be even more powerful.
This is one of the aspects of musical performance that audiences crave. We all want to feel. We have a desire to be understood. When an emotional connection is made between the audience and the performer, the highest level of communication is taking place. In that moment, music is acting like a universal translator that transcends vocabulary, comprehension level and the differences of past experience. Both parties in the conversation are on the same page, and the connection is beautiful.
As musicians we constantly strive for musical accuracy in our practice time. We use scales, technical exercises, drills and other practice techniques to raise our technical ability. As performers, however, it is also important to practice performing. We need to know how to express emotion in our performance. We need to study the emotion that is trapped within the music and connect it to a past experience that we can relate to. Then we have to combine our knowledge of this emotion with our musical technique in a way that releases the expression of the music.
Having this type of command over our emotions is difficult. Before a performance, many things can happen to throw our body and emotions off balance. Carrying and setting up gear throws our muscles out of whack and makes our bodies tense. Last minute scheduling changes, conflicts, technical issues and other problems can send our emotions on a roller-coaster. This is all in addition to the regular anxiety that is felt due to nerves. Somehow, we have to push past all of this and remember the emotion we felt when we were alone in the practice room connecting to the music. We need to find a way to access that and express it through our performance. Without genuine communication, music is just pleasant noise.