Nov. 19, 2019

Distractions

The humor in this door sign (photo) derives from the fact that keeping one's distance from certain things is actually a warning to organists, not their visitors.
We allude here to such concerns as distractions.
The subconscious mind is the seat of memory, and it will function automatically for us in a performance situation if fear is taken out of the way.
It's important therefore for us to focus down on what's happening in the current measure of music as we play, concentrate, and NOT let things distract us -- like a sudden, unexpected, enormously loud and startling burst of patriotic applause -- like maybe some tricky place up ahead -- like some earlier mistakes we had to correct or one that crops up unexpectedly -- like someone asking us questions -- like someone wanting to shake hands with us -- like someone wanting us to look into their camera and smile while we're trying to sight read from the page (yes, they do that to us, too).
All of these things can trip us up by hijacking our eyes, ears, hands, mind, and/or attention; while we're smoothly cruising along in a performance situation these kinds of things can suddenly grab our focus, our concentration, by the scruff of the neck and rudely strip it away for a moment, leaving nothing behind but our motor memory and the task of recovering our bearings.
No tension -- no play -- but relaxation needs to be blended in so that it's about a 50:50 mix of tension and relaxation -- what amounts to getting in the middle of the road and never all of one thing; in that sense, being able to balance one against the other at any point along the way makes organ playing very athletic.
What many of our well-meaning non-musician friends and listeners don't always seem to realize is that a stream of inspired sound doesn't simply emerge from the instrument by some automatic process as soon as organists seat themselves at the bench and start playing; the musician's total attention, mind, memory, and focus are needed to where, with the possible exception of receiving a smile and a nod of the head, it's impossible to hold any semblance of meaningful communication with them at the same time.
From a purely mechanical standpoint there are no issues (save for physical limitations) which repetition, having the right tools, and adopting the habit of fiercely concentrating cannot solve.
To be alert enough to concentrate requires us to guard our health and get enough rest; here again, it's all about balance.
Everything in organ playing is balance [See blog, Balance In Organ Playing, Parts I-III].
When we play, if we make a little mistake, we don't dwell upon it -- we just leave it behind and keep moving forward ... it's in the past.
If we begin to start thinking about why we just made the mistake then pretty soon we're making a few more because we're getting distracted and not staying with the moment.
It can be aggravating when we know we can play it better and have done so countless times -- interference can enter the mind from any direction -- but we just need to chalk it up, forget about it, and keep moving, just like we would when we're sight reading.
The more we can cultivate the habit of NOT getting provoked with ourselves if a little blemish happens in our playing, the better our memory will function through the remainder of the music.
Some of the best advice we can receive is to let go of that perfection thing ... to forget about playing it "perfectly," and just play it.
It's important to acknowledge spontaneity and believe in it because, no matter how many times we practice a work, each time we play it there will be a difference.
We also need to stop thinking about that difficult place two pages ahead; our hands, feet, mind, and memory all need to be in sync with what's in progress so that what has been learned and stored in the subconscious can be accessed without interference.
Thinking about some tricky spot pages ahead of the present instant and wondering if we're going to play it correctly when we get there diverts the attention and disturbs and inhibits our ability to play in the moment of time that's unfolding and now exists.
It's important therefore to stay right with the moment.
The present moment will save us.