Last night in tango class, Florencia was trying to impress upon us leaders the importance of learning to follow as well, so we know what the dance feels like to the followers, and so we have a chance to feel what the really good leaders do. You can’t just learn by watching, she explains, because so much of what’s in the body’s motion isn’t apparent to the eye. “Sometimes, you’ll see somebody dancing and they look really good, but then you dance with them and ugh!” — she screws up her face — “it feels terrible!” Conversely, many of the most wonderful tangos for the people dancing them are so small and subtle that they look almost like nothing to an observer. Her moral: “Don’t worry about dancing so it looks good from the outside. Learn to dance so that it feels good from the inside.” It’s true: dancing doesn’t feel like it looks; it is a totally different experience inside that embrace.
The obvious embrace in music, one that also doesn’t feel how it looks, is between the performer and the instrument. But there’s a second embrace, much less obvious but no less important, between the listener and the music. Alone with a recording, in a musician’s living room, even in a concert hall full of people, each of us has our own private, direct experience of the music. It’s not even an embrace between the performer and the listener; it’s the listener and the sound of the music, the idea of the music. It’s not about the performer; the performer’s ego gets in the way of that connection. Ultimately, the musician has to fade into the background of the experience, and allow that embrace between the listener and the music.
A whole lot of the culture of the classical music world these days revolves around music that sounds good from the outside. I want to play music that feels good from the inside.