Monday, October 26, 2015

The Tree in the Forest

You know the old college discussion—“If the tree falls in the forest and no one’s around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Ah, the luxury of college days, asking questions like that, questions that soon would change to “Can I find a job? Can I find a mate? Who will pay for the wedding?” Then “Cloth or disposable diapers? Can we find a babysitter? Is there a return policy on kids?” Next phase—“Can we afford college? Should we move to Finland?” Still later, “Can I still sit on the floor while I teach the kids? Can I get up again?” And so on.
This Friday will be my practical version of the tree conundrum—“If I give a concert and no one comes to hear it, does the music exist?” I’ve been playing a lot of piano at home and in my own snail’s pace and weird way, felt like I was making “progress,” whatever that is. New conceptions, cleaner technique, deeper feeling my way into each note, more facility with the language of jazz. And so I had the bright idea that I should give a concert to complete the process. Looked up the etymology of “per-form” and came up with things like “to carry through, to see to completion, to fulfill.”

There is some music in the world that is played with no one else around to hear it or lots of music that is never recorded to carry on beyond the moment and yes, it does exist and makes an impact on the player, if nothing else. But the sense of fulfillment is in the sharing and hey, that’s pretty much true of every art form and cooking and sex and just about everything we do that’s worthy of sharing. Much is crafted in solitude, but needs to come out of the woodshed before it feels wholly complete.
And so I rented a hall, made a flyer, splashed it over Facebook, sent it to my group workshop e-mail, sent invites to friends who owe me favors, made a set list, practiced some more, rehearsed with my two partners-in-crime, but all with this familiar gnawing doubt—will anyone come? I mostly hear from all the people who “would love to, but they’re busy that night” and frankly, wish they wouldn’t tell me. Well, it would be okay if there were an equal number who said, “Great! See you then!” but that ain’t the case.
One of the things I love about teaching is that I have a guaranteed audience. The kids keep showing up class after class and in predictable numbers. I don’t have to entice them or thank them or wait for their r.s.v.p.— 8:15 rolls around and there’s 16 8th graders sitting on the risers ready for whatever I have to share. What a deal!!
Of course, I understand that building an audience is the dues an artist must pay. I’ve had friends quit teaching and devote themselves to making their living as a musician and gone to some of their shows at cafes with four people in the audience. And they’ve played as if it was Carnegie Hall. But I’m not so large-hearted and just start thinking of all the people who I’ve been faithful to—going to their art show or choir concert or poetry reading or what have you and then wondering why they’re not at mine, dang it! Or have terrible self-doubts about not being worthy. Ya-da-ya-da.
Well, we’ll see how it works out. I just want enough people there so that those who have come don’t feel embarrassed. The piano’s lovely, the hall as well and it should be a special moment to play with a 16-year old up-and-coming jazz singer who was my student at the SF School from 5 to 12 years old. That’s enough. But still would be nice if some people showed up.
And this much I can guarantee: 
The music will be lovelier than a bunch of trees falling in the forest. 

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