Musicians have to be good at what they do and keep their insecurities deep beneath the surface. I’m not sure I could do that.
I’ve been thinking about imposter syndrome amongst musicians whilst I’ve been out here in Monte Carlo.
It goes on. We’re all victims of it. Anyone who claims they’re not is lying. The bastards.
So given that we’re all liable to look on others and think, “I’m nowhere near as good as them,” why would musicians be any different?
And given that is basically a fact (without any real evidence to back the statement up), you’ve got to hand it to musicians who must as a matter of sustaining their careers, resist expressing what they really think about their peers.
Because if I scan the internet on a daily, hourly or minute-by-minute basis as I do, I know what I sometimes fleetingly think about my peers. Jealousy rears its head. Rationality fights its corner. Sometimes I have to involve others in righting the ship.
If I do that, musicians must surely do the same.
They must surely listen to recordings, attend concerts or cling on to tittle-tattle and wonder how they fit into the grand scheme of things.
The only difference is they have to maintain a split personality. A sense of awareness on the one hand to know what they think of themselves and of others, and the ability to judge who the people are they can trust such that they can, as and when they need to, let their guard down and say what they really think and feel, and seek out the reassurance they need without fear of judgement or negative consequence.
Who’d be a professional musician? Who’d be a soloist? Who’d be a member of a quartet?
Do quartet members on a rare night off in a city where a festival has another quartet playing for example say to another, “Shall we creep in at the back and have a listen? What do you think?”
And, if they were to say yes to one another and then attend and then discover to their horror that the group on stage is better than them, what would they say? Would they just stay silent? Would one of them broach a difficult conversation about their future? What does the person who wants to express their innermost insecurities say to the others in the moment of greatest neediness?
What do the others say in the event that the quartet member pipes up? What do they all say to one another if they discover that the group they’ve turned up to listen in on turns out to reinforce their own self-belief? What do they say then? Is the walk back to the hotel a silent one, or does one of them propose heading to a bar where they’ll order a bottle or two of something cool and (probably fizzy) where they throw their heads back and laugh like queens? .
All of this sprung to mind whilst I was stood at the waffle iron this morning. There, stood looking into the middle distance was the second violin from last night’s Monte Carlo concert. I nearly went up to her to thank her for her efforts.
That might seem a little disingenuous on my part, like I’m having a mild dig. Not a bit of it.
These people are sort-of celibrities by virtue of the fact they’ve been on a stage, elevated above the rest of us doing a thing that the rest of us on some level regard as magic. They’re driven to do what they do in part because us rubber-neckers marvel at their wizardry. We applaud them or criticise them because they meet, exceed or fail to reach our expectations.
But when they step off the stage, step out of their concert gear, sling their instruments on their backs and head back to their hotel, they’re no different from you or me.
And I love that. I love them being all everyday in the same space I occupy. I love having a glimpse of them waiting for a waffle to cook, or commenting on the quality of the bacon. In those moments my expectations are reset. The miracle of what musicians actually achieve under the stage lights is laid bare. They are unwittingly providing me with an entirely different kind of performance. A reality that no camera can capture, not even Christopher Nupen. A bubble I don’t want to be the person bursting.
When I sat back down at breakfast my eye was twitching. I still felt tired. I was still obsessing about whether I could really trust the mortgage company customer service bod who assured me that they wouldn’t be attempting to take a second mortgage payment four days after the last. Soon after I’d bit into a piece of cheese, I was thinking about the various bits of work I still had to finish off, convinced that there were countless others who lived a similar life to me who did it in a far more organised way. They wouldn’t make the same kind of schoolboy errors I felt I was making in my day to day work.
When I headed back to the breakfast bar the violinst was still there. Either I was eating too quickly or her waffle was in danger of burning (if it hadn’t already).
I could have said hello. I could have thanked her. I had my chance. But at the end of this unexpectedly satisfying day, I’m rather glad I kept her in her bubble. I think its better our musicians remain on a slightly elevated plinth at all times.