Double Life I – On the Relationship with the Audience

jänikset_hare-940972_640July 21 2015. Since 2008 my Open Artist & Dear Audience program – with several projects – has discussed the artisthood and the artist’s relationship with the audience and society. The philosophy of the program is a critical gaze into the romantic image of an artist with the aim to find new ways to understand this weird concept. My interest on conceptualizing the artisthood grew during my doctoral studies and led me to write my doctoral thesis Let Go – Six Writings on Musicianship about the topic: I criticize the romantic, bohemian artist and study my own Werktreue, my fidelity towards the musical work. Since my doctorate I’ve continued discussing these topics as a teacher within the area of the artistic doctoral education.

Working as a teacher in the DocMus doctoral school has led me to an interesting double life: I work as a pianist within the art music genre and, at the same time, make observations on it. This kind of life is familiar to many DocMus artists: we learn to reflect on our artistic actions and little by little this critical reflecting becomes an essential part of one’s work. In my own work it means for instance discussing the artisthood, the artist’s identity and the relationship with the audience/society. However, applying the research results into one’s own artisthood is not self-evident. For instance, to be able to discuss the relationship with the audience I have organized several projects where artists have met their audiences face to face. Results from these conversations have been positive and encouraging, and my will to bring these two groups closer together has grown significantly. Nevertheless this doesn’t mean, that I would ever be ready to get totally rid of the traditional and strict recital etiquette with a clear distance between the artists and the audience. The research is one world, being a performing artist is another – sometimes these worlds meet and sometimes they don’t. This idea of two separate worlds has never been clearer to me than in a concert organized last year: loosening the recital etiquette caused serious problems in my concentration. I missed more than ever the dark grandstand and the spotlight directed to my fingers only.

(May 13 2013) Once again I have organized a small tour in Finnish old people’s homes. The audience is a bit different from an ordinary audience in real concert halls. The hall is quite big and the grand piano is a tuned Yamaha, which is not bad at all. But the hall is also a cafeteria and there are still some people finishing lunch. Most of the people listen when I say hello and introduce the program. But there is a little noise when I start to play. None of the customers are making sounds but somebody in the kitchen doesn’t hesitate to clatter the dish during the next 45 minutes.

 I start with three mazurkas. There is a little noise all the time as I play. While playing the mazurkas, I’m thinking about the following four studies. I start to worry whether I will be able to concentrate on the studies or not. Especially the second one is quite difficult and it would be risky to play it in this noisy and unstable place.

 The customers listen to the music quietly, but a certain nurse who is sitting close to me is starting to bother me a bit. She escorts a woman in a wheelchair and they both are having a cup of coffee. During the third mazurka she snaps a picture. I can see her as I play and hear the sound of taking a photo. Suddenly I’m aware of my facial expressions. Sometimes I notice that I’m making funny expressions as I play, but so what. If I think about it in the middle of music making, I stop the expressions, since it would be idiotic to be aware of them and still make them. Then I forget the topic totally and start to look funny again. For me, concentration is more important than worrying about looking stupid on the stage. But having someone taking a photo of me while I’m playing is simply too much.

 Then I realize that the nurse is recording my playing. She is holding her mobile phone in the air shamelessly and I start to feel really irritated. She is not even trying to hide it. After the third mazurka I ask politely to put all the recording stuff away. I’m not seemingly angry. I’m not aiming my words to that specific nurse but to all listeners. I’m smiling and nodding my head to all possible directions to show a sort of kindness, to smoothen my inevitably harsh information.

 And immediately I regret my words. Of course the nurse enjoyed my playing and now I made it clear that what she did was not okay. She meant absolutely no harm to anybody – she was just attending a happening and tried to enjoy it. Then another thought pops into my head: does everything have to be free? Is it nowadays natural that people can capture anything they want with their technical device? You know, free music from the net, free recordings from a concert. Do we, the performers, have to swallow anything or should I need to stand up for my rights? I’m selling my albums in this same concert so what’s the point, if anyone can record my playing live?

 I miss the ritualistic etiquette so bad that I could cry. I don’t care about the audience. I just want to play all these masterpieces in peace and quiet.

 All these thoughts cross my mind during the minutes I’m playing the first study. I give all I have to it, the music is more approachable than the weird mazurkas and I have a feeling that they like it. I start to feel better, but there’s still too much background noise in the hall. Since the music has very loud moments, some lady is almost shouting to her companion. Of course, otherwise my playing might prevent those people to have a decent conversation. I’m a pendulum, swaying from “I’m fine, I don’t mind that I can’t concentrate” to “I want to get the hell out of here”.

 And suddenly, I decide to do something I’ve never done before. I leave the most difficult study out of the program. I can not risk it. If somebody would drop a pan during the study it would totally ruin the performance. The work is that fragile. I’m that fragile. And if I would play really badly just a few weeks before the recording, I could as well shoot myself. I feel alone and frustrated.

 There’s also some time to hesitate: shall I play it or not? Shall I later regret that I chickened? Is this professional or unprofessional? Then I just see myself turning the page, skipping number two, diving into the third study.

 The studies are beautiful, romantic music: the audience likes this, I can tell. After them I continue with another three odd mazurkas. The nurse decides to take the dish away. But she’s coming back and taking the old lady on a wheelchair with her. As they leave, they hardly make any noise, just a bit. The success of my concert is condensed to the nurse, now absent, with my playing in her mobile phone, probably hurt by my comments.

 This concert is a big minus sign on my artistic excel file. This was supposed to be a rehearsal concert before the recording, but I didn’t play the most difficult piece at all, and there was some extra inconvenience with the audience. Anu Vehviläinen, the audience specialist from the Sibelius Academy, smoked a listener out of the concert.

 

 

 

 

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