Zooming Back to Work

I had an orchestra concert last week, which felt like my first NORMAL workweek in over a year. We had one three weeks ago, sure, but that one was a whirlwind of being the soloist and channeling heroic energy the whole time. It was amazing, wonderful, I loved it – but it was NOT a normal week. This one was.

So I’m sitting in the orchestra, and we’re rehearsing Beethoven and Haydn and Anna Clyne, and the conductor is always listening and he demands a lot. He wants an enormous amount of dynamic range, he wants colors and style. And it felt easy. The music was difficult, but delivering it on stage was not.

I know why it was easy. For the past 13 months I have been out of the habit of showing up live for work. I have been out of the habit of trying to project my sound on a stage. Both the good habits (like knowing how to pack my bag to leave the house on time!) and the bad habits (overplaying, zoning out during the easy parts, thinking I’m invisible in the middle of the orchestra) have been broken. Everything feels fresh out there.

And what I HAVE been doing this year is playing on Zoom.

On Zoom, dynamics are hard to express. On Zoom, there’s never a musical context for what I am doing, it’s always just me by myself. The people listening are right there, just as close to their screens as I am to mine. It’s much more INTIMATE playing than being on an orchestra stage, it’s much more exposed, and it’s also a very difficult medium to PROJECT character through.

I’ve spent the last year coaching people to give MORE. MORE contrast, MORE musical context, MORE character. I’ve been demonstrating these concepts and tools to them. I’ve figured out, I think, how to express a musical line through a platform that wants to compress it, wants to minimize it, and through which every waist-up gesture can be SEEN in close-up.

It’s like (I imagine) acting for television compared to acting on the legit stage, IF your television performance also had to translate through a layer of static. I’ve been exaggerating more, and allowing myself to be ever more SEEN, without the safety and remove of a darkened theater.

And those skills ABSOLUTELY translate back to the orchestra! I have more control of my sound, vibrato, and dynamic than I remember having. I feel COMFORTABLE perceiving a spotlight on me, and I feel POWERFUL in the way I am presenting my musical ideas.

Zoom has been a necessary evil this year – but emoting through it has been an obstacle that turned into an opportunity. It’s liberated my playing, and I invite you to let it liberate yours!

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