The idea to write this post came to me when I was watching a Basketball game and a commentator made a remark about one of the team’s unsuccessful shot attempts. They were all shooting badly that night and he said: “You know, sometimes bad shooting is contagious!” And since Basketball and Music are two of my favorite things on this planet, I couldn’t help but relate a sports commentator’s observation to a musical performance.
It was a very busy month for me, and I had several shows with different groups playing different styles of music with daily rehearsals and concerts tightly filling up my December schedule. One of the orchestras I was rehearsing with during that period had an unpleasant sound. Unpleasant, as in harsh, imprecise, and a little out of tune. After several rehearsals and a performance in such circumstances, I noticed something: that bad quality of sound production had rubbed off on me, and I was playing with that same quality. That’s a real frustrating feeling, I have to say.
I woke up the next day after the concert, and I got myself ready to go to another rehearsal with a different group of musicians, much more professional, experienced, and dedicated to good performance quality than some of the musicians from the other orchestra. As I walked to the church where we were rehearsing, I was really worried that I’d play with the bad sound from the night before. I arrived at the church and these great musicians were all set up and warming up on their instruments. I unpacked my Bass with their sound in my ears and with a slow and calculated movement, I drew the first note from my bass… What a relief, it sounded alright!
During our break, I told one of the musicians about the whole incident. He said: “100%, the same thing happens in Football!”, this was an important indication as I hadn’t mentioned to him the basketball commentator’s comment. I began to recall the times when I’d play Basketball with really good players, and how it would suddenly bring my level up and my ability to run plays and make good shots, and how in other times when I’d play with less capable players, I’d be all clumsy and careless. Then, I listened to some recordings of me playing with musicians of different level. And, guess what? The same thing applies.
They say ‘life imitates art’, and sometimes they reverse it and say ‘art imitates life’. In ideal situations, like an ideal listening environment, a group of musicians playing badly before an audience will leave a bad sensation in people’s ears. A group of musicians playing with a heavenly sound and who are dedicated to executing their notes with a lot of care, will inspire a matching attitude in those listening. And since we as people imitate what we see, hear, and feel from other people, we should assume that our audience’s lives will be affected by the way we perform a certain night.
Similarly, in the world of composition, a poorly constructed piece of music will inspire a chaotic, uneasy feeling in listeners. Though it could be the intention of the composer to make people feel this way for a certain reason… in such a case, I wouldn’t call it a bad construction, as long as the composer knows what he/she are putting into people's consciousnesses. No wonder I always resorted to Bach’s music when I had to study for a difficult exam. His music is so well built and logically structured that it would put my brain in the same mode of operation. I’d be able to focus better on what I was studying and easily absorb the material.
If any of this is true, it means one thing to me: Responsibility. How can artists allow themselves to create bad conditions for their audiences if they know this, without suffering some kind of guilt? And, it goes both ways, I believe. Audiences have the responsibility of creating a good performance environment for the artists, whether through attentive listening at a concert or any kind of active participation with the artwork. I remember reading somewhere that our children don’t end up doing what we say they should do, but instead act the way we act in their presence. I mean, It’s really difficult to convince your child not to smoke if you have a cigarette in your mouth.
I think we do almost everything through imitation. Go into a room full of frowning faces, and pessimistic attitudes, and pretty soon you’ll be the same. I can’t remember where I got this idea from: if you get a crate of good apples and mix in a bad apple, all the apples will rot. But if you get a crate of bad apples and mix in a good one, it’s not going to make all the other apples fresh again. That’s a pretty grave idea if we apply to the human condition, and that’s why I choose to resist it. I’d like to believe that a one small candle in the dark does matter. Especially when that candle has the transformative force of art as its tool… we are not apples! And, let me finish with this: art doesn’t have to mean music, play-writing, painting, etc… it might well be the art of living.