The Power of Performing Music

This week, I taught the summer band program in my school district. I had a total blast! I’ve been teaching private flute lessons this entire year, but I haven’t conducted a band rehearsal since last June, before my maternity leave. Band (or any performing ensemble) is what I love best about being a musician. There’s a community spirit and a camaraderie that I can’t find anywhere else. Recently, in Edwin’s Music Together class, the instructor spoke about the importance of music in building relationships, and how she’d met her husband and most of her friends through music-making. I realized that is true for me as well- my husband is a musician, as are nearly all of my close friends from high school, college and adult life. It’s a reminder of how music is so powerful that it creates lifetime bonds.

Performing music as a group is hard work, whether you’re conducting, singing or playing an instrument. A conductor at a high school concert I once attended compared performing music to doing open-heart surgery. The performer needs to be intensely focused and aware. He needs to read his music and respond appropriately with many different parts of his body, muscles big and small. She needs to listen to the people next to her and adjust her pitch. While playing correct notes and rhythms, he also must be aware of articulation, dynamics, and phrasing. She must be attentive to voice and instrument sections on the opposite side of the ensemble to know when to enter and whether she’s blending. They all need to watch the conductor carefully and be aware of the audience. And all of those components together, all the mental gymnastics and physical movements and opposing senses, must come together to create music that does credit to the composer’s intent, demonstrates its place in history, and project an artistry that pleases the audience.

How can one do all that without feeling bonded to the people she does it with?

There’s a special moment that I feel when everything is going perfectly during performance. It comes when all the musicians feel locked in, focused on the same emotion, working simultaneously hard. It’s the auditory equivalent to a barn raising, a team of chefs creating a five-star meal, or a perfectly orchestrated flash mob. I can’t really describe how it feels, except to say it’s part tingles down my arms, part leaping in my stomach. I’ve felt it many, many times as a performer, sitting in my chair in the flute section, but it’s better as a conductor, because I get the full impact of the music from the best seat (stand) in the house, and I also get to have the pride of having brought the ensemble to that moment. I probably don’t experience this magic as often as a high school or college conductor does- elementary rehearsals are often more about the down and dirty details than the magic- but when I do, it makes every previous clarinet squeak and butchered rhythm disappear. I got that tingly-arms feeling this week while performing Pirates of the Caribbean with the band (that piece often does it for me) and it reminded me how much I miss being part of an ensemble on a regular basis.

I’m still not ready to leave home for school yet, but this week reminded me of what I love about teaching: the bonds that are created between me and the kids, and the magic that we all make together.

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