How do musicians handle jealousy or are they just accustomed to vulnerability on stage?

This one’s a tough one demanding detail and taking in a few things I’ve been pondering over the past few days. 

The first bit you need to know is what went on yesterday morning. 

I was making my sandwiches for a day of filming. Mid way through mashing the hard-boiled eggs, I started thinking about a journalist who irritates the hell out of me. Nearly everything she says or does makes me annoyed. We’ve spent barely 30 seconds in one another’s company. I’m not especially proud of my feelings towards her. Truth is, the feelings I have about her are essentially a projection of my own insecurities – a reminder of all the things I know I can’t be in order to get to the top. Rather than being OK with that, my go to place (because we’re all wired to follow the path of least resistance) is to be irritated by her. At the risk of falling back on a phrase I actually despise, that’s my bad not hers.

I deployed a bit of rational thinking in the moment to get to me to ‘a better place’. I moved on to buttering the baps accordingly.

I then started thinking about the equivalent in the classical music world. What would it be like for a soloist to experience a similar emotional reaction, powered by similar thought process fuelled by a similar momentary lapse in self-belief. They must experience this, surely. They’re not super-human. They may risk sharing that with their peers or with journalists like me, but they must surely experience it even privately.

I know of musicians who do. People paralysed by their own self-criticism. It’s a difficult thing to observe in the moment. Why? Because for good or bad I do elevate musicians by virtue of them being on stage performing for me. And the reason it’s difficult is because I don’t want to reconcile the reality of the experience in the moment with what I perceive from my place in the auditorium. I want my musicians to be normal human beings, but I don’t want them to be that normal. 

Fran Wilson, The Cross-Eyed Pianist writes about vulnerability from a performers perspective in this excellent blog post.

In the concert I filmed last night I saw the white heat of live performance, in the gloriously revealing acoustic of a school hall. It is in these surroundings where the elite accomplishment of the orchestra is laid bare, observed by an eager community audience for whom this concert performance is a genuinely heartfelt high point. A sense of occasion exuded. Those doing the work were only a handful of metres away. It was an electrifying experience.

From my position behind the camera, I was most aware of the cellos. There were three of them. Only three. But there was so much energy coming from them in even the overture that it sometimes felt like they were doing the work of a sixteen piece section. One player in particular – the number two – clearly demonstrated her unequivocal enthusiasm in the moment with appetite, grit, and joy, on both her face and the way her bow hit the string. It was a magical split-second thing to witness. I wish I had a longer lens to have captured it.

Thoughts have been swirling around today. And, following a recommendation from a friend earlier this week, I’ve re-watched Brene Brown’s captivating ‘Call to Courage’ – a powerful evocation advocating the need to be vulnerable. 

Reflecting on Brown’s call to arms for the second time this week, I wonder if I’ve arrived at a conclusion about musicians and their work. 

Yes, they are subject to the same thinking as the rest of us. They’re not wizards or magicians. Their achievements are not some kind of sleight of hand. Perhaps they are people – the ones who create electrifying moments – who know how to be vulnerable, people who thrive because they have learned how to utilise those insecurities. Perhaps they are individuals who learned long before the rest of how to be and how to benefit from being vulnerable. 

My feelings about that journalist are changing by the way. But you won’t be surprised to learn that it’s a work in a progress. More on that story a little later. 

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