Sunday, November 09, 2003

Inspiration Theory

I had a gig yesterday, playing a wedding reception with Kris and Mark, two of my fellow profs. It was actually at someone's house--a house that is about to be sold, so all the furniture was gone--but it was a nice little setup, if a little loud (we were playing in what was basically an entryway alcove). It was a sweet gig in the sense that we got both paid and fed, and people were nice to us and we got several substantial breaks.

It's interesting to think that a performance like that has a couple different levels going on at the same time. The three of us were enjoying what each other was playing: a cool chord substitution here, a funny quote there...and stuff like Mark playing "Ornithology" below me while I did the melody of "How High the Moon" (the former is based on the latter). Meanwhile, most of the people there had no idea that all those things were going on (except maybe the guy from the TI Band whose wife was in the wedding and who got us the gig), but they did hear some pleasant, possibly familiar tunes that provided the soundtrack for a nice moment in their lives--a 38-second track from one CD of their boxed set, but perhaps a memorable moment.

I also tested a theory that I've been coming up with since last weekend. Last Sunday, I was particularly "on" at church; the sound guy even had me really "juiced"--so much so that I was shocked at being able to hear myself in the monitor so well. I asked him between services if I was turned up more than usual, and he said yeah, because he was really digging what I was doing and felt like I was in fact really "on" that day. He said sometimes I didn't seem as confident or something, so he didn't have me as high in the mix. I assured him that I was never really unconfident or lost or anything, I was just--depending on the song--trying to stay out of the way of the lyrics sometimes (I've stated before how I'm basically the chocolate sprinkles on the cake of worship).

But I got to thinking about why it was that I was so "on" that day. I didn't have any more sleep than usual--probably less. The only thing different was that I was listening to the new Joshua Redman CD in the car on the way in, and I think I felt inspired by his playing and it carried over into mine. I did the same thing yesterday on the way to the gig, putting in a Wes Montgomery CD that Andrew from Combo Too left in here after the burrito bash on Thursday (it was the same instrumentation as we had at the gig, plus drums). Sure enough, I felt rather "on" last night also. To cap it off, I had a CD with great tenor playing going on the way to church today and felt like I played better than usual again.

So can you really "prime" yourself for a performance by listening to someone playing your instrument very well, or to the type of music you're about to be playing? And, on the flipside, can listening to other, not-connected-to-the-gig music (i.e. rock on the way to a jazz gig) actually make you less inspired for your performance? Is the type of music irrelevant as long as it's a fine performer? Or is it all just up to chance? I invite my fellow musicians to chime in on this, using the comments section.