Considering a Purpose to Perform Music by Juan Hernandez
It is actually quite common to find music performers that have not seriously contemplated the following question: why do I play music? Until not long ago, I would have included myself in this category.
This profound inquiry should surpass the fact the we do it because we enjoy it. A follow-up and maybe more important question as a careerist is: why should anyone have to listen to what I play? It is curious that questions as fundamental to our craft as these are not generally asked by most musicians, and when they are, there isn’t always a clear-cut answer. I say fundamental because I believe that answering these can truly help us focus more deeply in expressing ourselves as artists and, as we will see, it might intensify and prolong our passion for performance. Before continuing with the article, I invite the readers to contemplate these two questions in order to engage deeper with the following observations.
As performers, many of us began playing music for our own enjoyment. When we improved we didn’t just play anymore, but actually practiced. The next reasonable step was to show our progress by playing in front of people. As professional musicians we get to experience and appreciate these three components: enjoyment of performing, displaying our technical abilities, and sharing our passion for music with the world. While these seem rewarding enough, I feel they can get us to a state of burnout if we continue to perform without the clear direction of a more encompassing goal. Therefore, I would like to propose a fourth and unifying factor: a purpose to perform.
I trust the first three reasons are valid; we enjoy to perform, and when we play our best it is because we have worked hard at it and some kind of acknowledgement from the public can be conducive to further practice and self-improvement. Moreover, this consequently increases our desire to continue sharing our talent with an audience. Playing for people will be key here because I consider it to be many times more rewarding than to simply perform to exhibit our skills.
In 2016 Giacomo Fiore interviewed the fascinating composer and guitarist Angelo Gilardino for the magazine Classical Guitar. In the interview Mr. Fiore asks about Gilardino’s idea of transcendence referring to his 60 Studi di Virtuositá e di Trascendenza, and what that means to him. He replied, “Transcending virtuosity means to annihilate the latter into a purely musical gesture in which no trace of bravura remains.” (See footnote)
I found his statement deeply insightful. With this ideal we can strive for a technique that fuses into the music, where they are no longer apart and where we are not separated from the art as subject and object, but instead become one entity. According to Gilardino, the public will notice this by ironically not noticing the performance, but only the expression in the sound. “If the audience hears a guitarist and thinks “he’s good”,” he continued, “it means he’s not good enough. The true virtuoso transmits the music to the audience perfectly and transparently, rather than using the music to display his skill.” (See footnote)
Our virtuosity thus should be paradoxically not apparent if the music is to be solely and fully expressed.
With Gilardino’s notion of transcendental virtuosity I found a component that could bring together the other reasons to perform, that is, a more encompassing purpose for my music performances that coalesces my joy of playing, an opportunity to display improvement, and sharing my passion with the public. However, now, if we attempt for our performances to be exclusively the manifestation of the music, without the bravura of our virtuosity as Gilardino suggests, through this commitment to excellence the purpose of our performances becomes transcendental, almost noble, because although it satisfies the rest of the motives why we like to perform, it now takes the public’s experience into consideration by way of offering it something more substantial, a more sublime and engaging involvement in our concerts.
So, committing to this new purpose of performance I can now answer the earlier questions with certainty: Why do I play music and why should anyone have to listen?
I play music because it fulfills me as I strive to become a better musician for the benefit of the listeners through moving and awe-inspiring performances. I have a transcendental purpose to perform for myself, for the music, and for humanity as a whole.
*Fiore, Giacomo. “Composer, Guitarist, Teacher, Musicologist.” Classical Guitar, Spring 2016, pp. 30-32.
Juan Hernandez has performed with the Orange County Guitar Orchestra since 2013. He teaches Medieval Music History and Music Philosophy at the University of Philosophical Research. He also serves on the faculty of 88 Keys Music Academy.