Conversation in the dressing room after the second show at B.B.King centered around the flow of awareness during a musical performance. I explained that in my view consciousness naturally flows and does not rest in one activity, that in fact concentration is not effective for a performance.
Attention flows from that harmonic is a little off – try to bend the note to the lights are hot in the back of my neck to I cannot hear the bass clearly enough to that cajon is funky etc. Now, if one were to concentrate on the melody only, one’s rhythm might be off, if one were to focus on the bowing of the string, the flow of the melody might be off etc. If one gets stuck on just one aspect of the music (rhythm, pitch, melody, sound-production etc.) the result will sound wooden and not musical. In other words, letting our attention naturally flow between all of the different elements of making music is better than concentrating. Concentrating is what we have to do when we learn to play an instrument, or when we learn a new piece – but it is not the way to perform music. This flow-concept is something I feel can be applied to everything from creating art to cooking to parenting.
Another example where we use this flow on a daily basis: when we learn how to drive we concentrate so hard on releasing the clutch without stalling the car that we might rev the engine much higher than is necessary – which we suddenly realize. After a while we learn to let our attention flow naturally between checking the rearview mirrors, looking at the distance to the car ahead, checking the RPM based on hearing the engine, shifting, breaking, steering… The worst thing we can do is stare at the blacktop ahead – that is exhausting. Much better to let one’s eyes and attention flow to where they are needed.
This morning I taped a one hour radio show for NPR called The Song is You. The host, Bonnie Grist, played some music from Winter Rose as well as some music she allowed me to pick – Jimi Hendrix, Brian Eno (from On Land), Bjork (from Vespertine) – and we talked about music. It was wonderful to talk with a radio person who loves music and is knowledgeable and passionate about radio – rather than a commercial radio jock who reads the name of the next song in rotation from a playlist on their computer screen…