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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Things I Did in College Which Most Prepared Me for My Career in Music: See Lots of Live Music (2 of 5)

Andrew Hitz

Any music student knows that it is their job to listen to music.  This will not be news to anyone.  Along with practicing, this is the most basic level of homework for any musician.  Listening to great music both reminds us of what is possible and of why we do what we do.  These are great lessons that even the best musicians in the world must be reminded of from time to time.  Listening to music live is the best way to learn these lessons.

Seeing live performances has been a passion of mine from a very early age.  While listening to a recording of great music is a wonderful and valuable experience, there is something special about watching that music being made right in front of your eyes.

Any great performance that I have experienced is a conversation between the artist and their audience.  The conversation may look quite different at a Larry Combs recital than it will at an AC/DC concert but they are both conversations.  All great performers feed off of the energies of both the audience and the moment.  This is something that is very difficult to write or talk about and yet incredibly easy to understand when experienced.

Seeing live music is the best way for music students to be reminded that their performances are in fact collaborations with both their fellow performers and the audience.  My number one criticism of students performing juries tends to be that they are not speaking to me as an audience member.  Many students, through lack of experience, walk on stage and have a musical conversation with themselves while the faculty watches.  Frequently, the conversation doesn’t even include the piano player!

During my time at both Northwestern and Arizona State I literally saw a few hundred live concerts. Some of them were life changing, like the first time I saw the band Phish.  Others were average at best and nothing that I ran home to tell my roommates about.  At one point in my life I felt that only witnessing great music would directly influence my musical personality in any significant way.  This is not true! Every time I hear anyone play any note or phrase I am filing it away under something I want to sound like or something I don’t want to sound like.  A bad performance can only reinforce your musical opinion and that is a very good thing.

I also found it beneficial to occasionally take a step back and analyze a performance for such things as programming, stage presence, program notes, etc.  You can use all of that information, both good and bad, to help you with everything from how you conduct yourself in a jury to how to plan a recital program.  The best performers in the world have put a lot of time and thought into every aspect of their performance.  This is much easier to experience and truly grasp in a live setting than read about in a blog like this!

Finally, money is certainly tight for just about any college music student. But if you aren’t doing your homework, someone somewhere is.  I made some sacrifices in college that enabled me to spend quite a large percentage of my disposable income on seeing live music.  This included occasionally traveling a very long distance to see it as well.   My first trip to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival were three days that shaped my musical personality in ways that can not be described.  Sure, I was eating bagels without cream cheese and steamed broccoli with rice for a month afterward because I was so broke but I would do it all over again a thousand times over! Sitting 10 feet away from Lionel Hampton was worth checking the couch for loose change when I got home!

GO SEE LIVE MUSIC!

Next: Treat Every Rehearsal and Concert Like It Was a Paying Gig