Nicole Dieker knows that this post ends abruptly. She would have written more, but she has two dates with L to get to (one to practice La Valse, and one that is more like what you might think of when you think of the word “date”).

I don’t know if this is an odd question or not, but I’m going to ask it anyway.

Now that it’s obvious that the only thing keeping me from being the kind of pianist I want to become is, like, focus+time, then… um… what kind of pianist do I want to become?

I don’t mean “do I want to become a professional pianist vs. an amateur, a concert pianist vs. an accompanist, a person who specializes in the classical style vs. a person who champions contemporary composers.”

I think what I’m really asking is what kind of experience do I want to create?

This question is very quickly going to expand beyond piano.

It’ll include writing, because it’s also a question about the kinds of stories I want to tell.

And friendship, because it’s a question about the kinds of gatherings I want to host.

And my relationship with L, because that is the most important experience I’m creating with another person right now.

And, ultimately, my relationship with myself.

I suppose, with the piano, there are three ways of looking at it.

There’s the exclusive way. “This performance is for the one person who is going to appreciate the amount of research I’ve put into this fugue and my attempt to recreate the way it might have sounded when Frederick the Great first heard it performed, and if the rest of you can’t keep up, that’s your problem.” If you’ve studied music at the academic level, you’ve no doubt attended recitals that were structured as if they were academic papers.

There’s a place for that type of performance, of course.

There’s also a place for the performance that indulges its audience; less so for the performance where the artist only indulges themselves, and I still owe you a piece titled “On Indulgence” because I think I’ve got a good definition to share. That said, we’ve all been to the performance that panders, and we’ve often enjoyed it. We received exactly what we were hoping to get — no more, and no less.

But the type of connection I’d like to make is more than that, and now I’m wondering if every creative person wants to make that kind of connection, and they end up erring on one side or the other. If they want their artistry to take precedence (by making it all about their background research, their virtuosic technique, their super-duper-unique interpretation), their performance could become either exclusive or indulgent.

If they want the audience to take precedence (by making it all about the number of laughs received, the number of drinks sold, the number of social media posts generated), their performance could become pandering.

The work has to take precedence. The experience that you have created to share with someone else, and the experience that you create together as part of the sharing.

At this point I feel like I ought to quote Steven Universe.

Or, perhaps, one of the more foolish — and yet prescient — quips I made in grad school, after a directing class in which we were discussing putting our own themes on top of Shakespeare’s: “Theme is just the me.”

(This is a reference to Uta Hagen’s famous quote “Mood spelled backwards is doom.”)

(Uta Hagen was a famous actress and teacher.)

(Also, I’m assuming that you all know the Steven Universe quote I’m referencing but don’t know who Uta Hagen is. This is probably an oversight on my part.)

(I should also mention that I did not do very well in grad school, in part because I didn’t have a clear sense of the experience I wanted to have. I thought it would be the kind of deal where they open a door and show you where they keep all the stuff that they don’t teach undergrads, and then they hand you a career at the end of it. I also wanted to prove that I could beat the Final Boss of education. Neither of these are good reasons to go to grad school, and the first one isn’t even true.)

What I really want to do is show you a performance that actually felt like it centered the work and the experience — after everyone involved did their own work to research, problem-solve, specify, and produce the experience they wanted to create.

Which is probably what I’ll do on Thursday. ❤️



P.P.S. and then I should do an entire post on why centering the work is the most important thing you can do as a self

Leave a Reply