As musicians, we shape people's experiences. We mould them, structure them, craft them into tangible moments within time. The better control we have over our instruments, the more they disappear, allowing our thoughts and expressions to manifest in sound without hindrance. To make music that people want to listen to is not good enough; we should make music that people cannot help but listen to. We should strive to make music that captivates, that transports, that lifts people into beauty.
The process of developing a performance is like constructing a house. As you begin to visualise what you want, you start structuring it and filling in the details. Rooms start taking shape, evolving from simply spaces for things to go into places where you want to live, places that have meaning for you. You start putting more time and effort into it, and along the way traces of you are left in the colour of the wallpaper, the way the window lets the light in just so. No one can build this house but you, and you can build no house but this.
When we perform, we make a promise to the audience: we will give you something special, something remarkable. We take them by the hand and lead them through the house, showing them around, pointing out the details that we are particularly proud of. There's no way that we could show them everything, but they can see our eyes light up when we lead them from one room to the next, excited to share the results of our hard work. Our performances should mirror that excitement, that intensity, where we open up ourselves and take our audiences on a journey through time. Even if you have spent countless hours preparing, if you lack intensity during a performance you only let the audience peek through the windows. They can get glimpses inside, and perhaps an appreciation that you have clearly worked hard, but they lose that personal connection. They miss you in your performance.
The thing is, opening up through music (or any art, for that matter) in this way is a dangerous thing. We become vulnerable – not because what we have made is somehow inferior or substandard, but because we are scared that our audiences will see who we really are. They will see through the armour that we put on every day, past all of the things we do because we thing society will treat us better because of it. Buried within all of that is the little kid who finds happiness in the small things and wants other people to be happy, too. When we perform in such a manner, we risk the comfort of people passing us by. At the end of the day, though, isn't all art worth the risk?
Take your listener by the hand. Promise them something special. Make your playing irresistible in your own way, whether that means creating intensity of emotion, technical mastery, or just pure wonder. Practice will provide you the means to do so, the tools that you need. Connect to your audiences. Take their breath away. Be brave.