What’s in a musical performance?

We are today in the digital world and we might think that music is produced by machines. Therefore, the reasoning goes, the skills necessary to play an instrument are getting rarer and rarer. I, for one, don’t think so since I’ve got a full schedule. Plus, we still have to this day a ton of group crisscrossing our highways and skies to get to the next gig. Their expertise is absolutely vital to our world. We pay good money (sometimes) to go see them play, we dress like them (sometimes), we know the lyrics of their songs (sometimes) and we love to see them perform (always).

Here’s a question: how do these band prepare for their concerts? In that area, as well as all others, the answers vary. Simon Phillips, the drummer who replaced Jeff Porcaro in the group Toto says that before they went on the road, the band practiced all the songs but for their biggest hits like Rosanna or Africa.

Manu Katche a drummer touring currently with Peter Gabriel said that in order to prepare for the tour the band spent about three or four days rehearsing the music and three or four weeks rehearsing the show itself which includes lighting, videos, effects, choreography, etc.

Someone was telling me that when the band The Smashing Pumpkins reunited, they were rehearsing 8 hours a day for three months to get back in shape.

Like I said, you get all sorts.

Now, to this already diverse mix, let add some spices by saying that there are some substances that band members can absorb that can definitely affect a performance. I’ve witnessed a short YouTube video of Pete Townsend asking if there is a drummer in the audience because theirs had just collapsed on stage during a Who concert. Beyond that, there is the different mood that a player can go through if he loses a girlfriend, a house, a wife or his mind. That can impact the outcome of the concert greatly. Jazz musicians, almost all of them until the mid 70’s were known to play while under influence. But to that statement, they would probably have answered: “So what? Yes, we were intoxicated, and yet, the music was good and the audience got something for their money. Case closed.”

I tell my students that a concert is an event and that even if we prepare the crap out of them, we do not and we will never control entirely the outcome. Sometimes the crowd responds, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you reach fame, and sometimes you stay unknown, and sometimes the road is long and hard and stays long and hard even after you make it big (Lynyrd Skynyrd would be a good example for this particular situation). Also, never forget that sometimes the audience will support a terrible performance, which is perfectly illustrated in the movie “There’s something about Mary” in which Cameron Diaz has a scene where she butcher a song and yet wins over the crowd.

So, what does matter in a performance? I am not sure. But I have been trying to find out ever since I started this journey, and the quest has been a thrill.