Practice vs Performance

While searching for something else I came across this old post from December of 2005, which I wrote while doing the Winter Rose Holiday Tour, with the added string quartet. I think it’s worth repeating.

When we practice we often concentrate on individual aspects or fragments of a performance. Fingering, sound-production, volume/dynamics, melody, rhythm are all aspects of a performance that can be practiced independently. Concentrating on one of these aspects will have wonderful results and is in fact essential for improving, but I think that concentration is not good for performing music.

When we concentrate on the flow of the melody, the rhythm will suffer and we might place notes too far in front of or behind the beat. When we concentrate on the rhythm we might place the notes exactly on the beat, but the melody will lack flow. When we concentrate on producing sound (right hand for most people), we might lose sight of the fingering (left hand). In other words, while fragmentation is a great way to isolate and practice a piece of music – or general aspects of posture, fingering, sound-production, volume/dynamics etc. – for a performance these fragments have to join to form one single element: the music.

In order for music to flow naturally, we have to allow the mind to flow and trust that it will bring attention to any single element that requires it. During a performance mind might flow like this:

the melody is a little behind the beat… nice, but don’t fall behind… the lights are hot in the back of my neck… right hand is a little sweaty… keep it steady – don’t listen to Davo (sounds like he’s doing sevens against the six)… ah, Jon is starting to improvise: don’t go back to the melody now… the second string sounds a little off – is it me or the violin… or both…

You see, concentrating on any one aspect of the performance would inhibit the flow of mind and that might get us stuck and when we get stuck even for a moment we won’t respond to the needs that are arising. Getting stuck is the worst that can happen in a performance. Two places we certainly do not want to get stuck in are: what I just played was so great AND what I just played really sucked! Both thoughts have the same result – the flow of music is impeded and the very next phrase will indeed suck…

By no means is this limited to music. When you cook and concentrate too much on one item, you’ll burn another… and I am sure we will find many more examples…

East Coast – Day 10

Today we drove from Annapolis to Sellersville, Pennsylvania. We walked up to a little local cafe where we had, in the past, spent quite a few hours drinking coffee and waiting for load-in. Alas, the cafe wasn’t open and looked like it hadn’t survived. Instead we went to the restaurant next to the theater and had lunch.

The little Sellersville Theater has a very good sound and suits us. Stephen commented that the music sounded great in the house and there was something about the way it sounded in our IEMs, too. The hall has a dry sound and the rhythm becomes very clear. The percussion sections in Snakecharmer and Barcelona Nights were so much fun to play. I felt like I was an indefatigable part of an invincible organism churning, dancing in place, then moving forward. Magical moments. You pay for those because sleep won’t come for a long time afterwards. A small price to pay. :-)


Started playing Lush on the guitar yesterday. Hadn’t played it in more than fifteen years. Might be an interesting tune to re-arrange and resurrect. I find that the version on the Wide-Eyed + Dreaming documentary is perfect. I also like the Steve Hillage remixes of that piece. Of course, I was using a MIDI guitar then… but that’s just a challenge to come up with something different.

Damn, the late Carl Coletti sounds good on that recording! We had been touring a lot and that shows.

Last Night’s Twitch…

Sometimes simple is better. Last night’s performance had no technical difficulties. Perhaps I was taxing my aging laptop too much by trying to use two additional USB cameras. It did work once and then never again.

For the slideshow that has come to bookend my streaming performances I picked images from a tour in Japan in 2009. Travel has become difficult, if not impossible, and I thought some virtual travel was in order. Traveling without moving. Armchair travel. The slideshow progressed towards photos that were very impressionistic and all about the color and the light. Here are a couple of samples:

I have always enjoyed the color photography of Ernst Haas and Arthur Meyerson and in these photos I think I was able to express a little bit of what moves me about their vision.

Since the photos of the slideshow were taken in Japan I drank tea instead of wine. The cup was designed by the Japanese-American designer Isamu Noguchi. The tea itself, however, was Chinese Pouchong tea. I love that tea and have been drinking it since I discovered it at Ten Tea in San Francisco’s Chinatown around 1992, or so.

I hope you enjoyed the evening. There will be another performance on Tuesday morning at 11:30am, Santa Fe time, and then I will take a break from live-streaming. I will be back, but I don’t want to set a date for it. Maybe it’ll become more of a surprise thing… just some morning or afternoon or evening that I feel like playing on Twitch. If you follow me on Twitch they will inform you when I start streaming.

About Last Night

What I learned last night:

  • the software did not crash… a few days ago it crashed multiple times during testing, so this was a relief
  • I was told the guitar sounded good… there is nothing more important to me that this
  • when I spoke it wasn’t picked up well, because I relied on the guitar microphone… I am looking for an unobtrusive microphone with a silent on/off switch that I can use for my voice. In concerts I use a Shure handheld mic for this purpose but it would be nice to fid something smaller. (((the reason for the switch is that if the mic was left on the entire time it would pick up some of the guitar and muddy the sound)))
  • it was interesting not to get immediate feedback because a live-stream audience is silent. I didn’t mind this because a live-stream should be different from a concert and will never replace the feeling of a concert

So what’s next? I want to do two performances next week, one midday (((evening in Europe))) and one in the evening. I need to inform the folks on my mailing list and add a donation box to my Twitch page. I am eying the roof of my house for a future sunset performance. It would require carrying a lot of stuff up a ladder, but it could be fun – IF we have one of our glorious Santa Fe sunsets that evening.

This is the simple setup I used last night:

The set list was:

  1. Bombay
  2. Indigo
  3. Butterfly Dream
  4. Twitch
  5. Shadow

I hadn’t played Bombay, from The Hours Between Night + Day, in ages. Really enjoyed playing that piece again. Indigo is from last year’s album Fete. Fete is now available for streaming from Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, and many others.