On Performance

“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players” wrote William Shakespeare, in his play As You Like It.

Hmmm…  Not much of a stretch to visualize a guitarist up on the the stage.  We’ve seen thousands of pictures and videos (no exaggeration here) of guitarists in performance.  However, even with your guitar in your lap in the most secluded closet recording studio, or practicing alone in the darkened living room, you the musician are exposing yourself in ways that would make the non-musician feel squeamish.  But being up on the stage…  Woah!  Does that terrify you? Are you terrified that someone in your own house would hear you play? Public performance is not why you play guitar, is it?

Let me speak to those of you who haven’t performed in public.  You practice your drills and repertoire diligently, yet you play in private. Why? To what end? “Where is your head at?”

Let us delve into the unseen world of the human mind. Allow me to reduce the workings of the human mind to a more-manageable level by introducing three terms from a field of psychological study called Transactional Analysis:

(1) The Child corresponds to the “id.” The child in you and me offers our most basic, instinctual drive.
(2) The Parent corresponds to the “super-ego.” The parent in our mind tells us what we ‘ought’ to do.
(3) The Adult corresponds to the “ego.” The voice of reality in our mind attempts to reconcile the conflict between the child and the parent.

This is a handy tool to analyze many of the conflicts we endure, and to posit a solution. For instance, the Parent says we don’t practice enough because the Adult says that we must seek perfection. The Child wants to have another cookie and go to sleep.

Or, my parent says that I need to work on this Blog, and my Child says to play another game of Internet Spades. My Adult is particularly weak, so, more often than not, the Child wins out.

Here’s another one. The Parent is fearful of humiliation if we perform our art in front of others, and so the Child is happy to take flight to escape the fear. Thus we run away from the possibility that we perform in public.


What is an Adult to do?

Let me offer a glimpse of something that may be of value to the Adult in resolving the conflict between the Child and the Parent, to the end of moving out into public performance.

Dave Goggin was VP of Data Processing at Gulf Oil Corporation in Houston, Texas up until Chevron purchased the company back in the 1980s. I was fortunate enough to know Dave socially through our joint involvement in square dancing and clogging.

Dave had many roles to play in the day-to-day operations of the Data Processing division. At the time, Dave’s division printed 2.2 million credit card statements a month. He had over two hundred employees to manage. He wore many hats. To keep it all straight, he shared with me the fact that each morning, as he sat on the pot, he read through his personal planning calendar to see what needed to be done at work that day. He said that he would check on a department first thing when he got there, call a field office at nine AM, pick a fight with an employee at 10am so he could fire him, speak at a board room luncheon at 11:30 am regarding changes in billing information in two Western states, go back to his office at 1 pm and close the door for a nap… you get the picture.

He really got my attention about that ‘task’ on his calendar of starting a fight. Other than knowing that he was a Marine radio operator and prisoner of war in the Korean conflict, I never perceived a single mean fiber in his body. Sure enough, Dave told me that work was a lot like acting. He had different roles to play, and he was a ‘real good’ actor. He would fulfill the role of supervisor at 8 am, play the part of a friendly voice on the phone at 9 am, act like a tough guy at 10 am, become a news anchor at 11:30 am, and so on. Driving home at night, he practiced his acting skills while fulfilling the role of courteous Houston driver, which, he intimated, was particularly difficult for him on those days of the week that end in -day.

Dave told me that “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.” You act. Even when you don’t want to. Very Adult. …and it seems as if I’ve heard that quote before…

So, the Adult may use the ‘thespian arts’ to reconcile the Child and the Parent. The Adult may now motivate us to behave in such a manner to change us for the better, to cause us to take actions that will improve us, and the world, for the better.

So you have art within you. You are made in your Creator’s Image, so, obviously, a portion of that Image is to be creative.  You make music, dontcha?

You must ‘do’ something to release that art, to give it an existence in the real world. Just as a sculptor sees a statue trapped inside the block of stone, or the wood carver sees the finished carving inside the block of wood, you have a song, a riff, a melody, a chord progression, a lyric that MUST be released. You are powerless to do otherwise. In the current context, you pick up a guitar and create melody, rhythm, lyrics, and/or accompany someone else going the same musical direction as you.

Now you have created the art. What are you going to do with it?  The Adult creates a New Guitarist Person.

My premise in this blog post that you must perform your melody, rhythm, and lyrics for someone else to see. To do otherwise is to hide your art under a basket. Your creation is, by definition, a candle, a point of light, a piece of love. It is something good and of value. This is a dark world, and can use all the light, all the candles, all the love, we can muster.

Further, the act of sharing, of giving, changes you. I don’t mean that your bank account gets larger because you are booked for a hundred dates around the world in the coming year, although it would be cool to find out what that feels like, but rather, your soul is nourished by the act of giving away your art, your creation.

Don’t ask me how this works. The old saying goes like this: in the baseball game of life, you can’t really play ball wearing two catchers mitts. There is a time to catch the ball, and there is a time to throw the ball to someone else, for their benefit and for the good of your team. This, herein is the benefit of performance. Giving has a bigger spiritual effect on the giver than on the audience.                                                                                                                                       2013-03-03_14-13-48_680

To get over the threshold from introversion to giving, the Adult must construct a new theatrical character, and give that theatrical character a purpose, dialog, musical chops, and the opportunity to hone thespian skills. Plainly stated, you are the men and women on the stage. You are the playwright. You are creating not just music, but the character to play that music.  As the creator, you arrange rehearsals, costuming, find a stage, props, lighting, equipment, and promotional opportunities that will allow this new theatrical character.

Haven’t you dressed up for Halloween?  Or participated in the annual “Talk Like A Pirate Day?”

What I’m talking about is creating a new character.  This character plays guitar.  This character has a name (not your real name) and a costume.   You are now “Doing Business As” someone else.  Ever heard of Slash?  The Edge?  Zakk Wilde?  Piggy D?  Their mama didn’t give them their names.

That new person is who goes out in public.  That new person gets the stage fright, not you.

Yeah, that works.  Get out there and let’s see what you’ve got, New Guitarist Person!