Immanent Energy in Musical Theater

I am going into the second month of playing with the Ohio Light Opera in Wooster Ohio. So at this point I have been watching operetta dialogue scenes for more repetitions than I care to think about. And I have been wondering why some scenes draw me in time after time making me almost miss entrances.

And I think this has to do with their presence in the moment. Scenes which are more or less the same every night would put me to sleep. But ones that react to the crowd and the event are exciting! A slight change of tone changes the meaning of something minutely and the scene partner picks up on it changing their delivery just a bit.

If scenes tried to be the same every single time, they would be destined to fail. But those scenes which open themselves up to slight variation are able to capture a sense of immanent energy – energy which originates from and evolves through the event as it plays out. It is a processual energy that cannot be rehearsed. And that is what OLO does so well!

They understand that merely watching someone recite lines is not something anyone wants to pay for. Most people can pick up on forced expression as opposed to authentic expression.

So then why, in the music world, is there such a high demand for correctness? Why do we preach consistency in music schools? How can we possibly hold competitions which award the “best” players?

“Listen to recordings”, “take lessons”, “don’t play it with that inflection because it is never done that way” are all pieces of advice I have received when preparing for orchestra auditions.

When I take orchestra auditions, I feel like I am standing on stage and reciting lines with rehearsed expressions.  (And it doesn’t help that I’m not very good at doing this).

If there were an audience there and they happened to laugh at a joke I was making, I would cut off their laughter with my next line because that’s the way I rehearsed it. If I was playing with anyone else and they changed the inflection of an antecedent phrase, my consequent would go unchanged and fall flat.

I know that orchestral playing is much more complex than this. I also know that not all committees expect to hear robots. But a lot of the popular pedagogy seems to lean that direction. Because consistency is the easiest way to test someone objectively on whether or not they are good at their instrument.

But I am not interested in consistency. I am not interested in over-rehearsed displays of flawless technique and canned expression. I am not interested in merely reciting lines.

I think what is truly engaging to watch is someone who is like a great actor on stage: connected immanently to the scene being played out. That is what I aspire to create when I am performing music: immanent energy.


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