• Alexandros Charalambous

'Stop playing music for them, play for your soul'

Why are we even playing music?

As musicians, we learn that one of the biggest rewards for our work is the round of applause that occurs at the end of a performance - a sign of recognition and appreciation towards our work. We also, most of the times, identify success with the number of streams we get or how big the audience we perform in front of is. But is that what we set out to do in the first place? 

Sure! For some musicians it is, performing a sold-out show or having a million streams on Spotify is the driving force behind their efforts and there is nothing wrong with that. 

However, for some others, is not. For some musicians, music has a much more spiritual purpose. What ignites their driving force is not recognition provided by others, but authentic expression. Decoding what one has inside and imprinting it through music is priceless and it solely depends on one’ self. 

Performing without an audience

In this post, I would like to expand more on using music as a vehicle to express ourselves. Expression through music has always been my goal and after my grind with ‘Contact Improvisation’ - a topic I touched on my previous post - more and more questions started emerging in my head around this concept. 

To understand ‘Contact Improvisation’ in-depth, I had to not only focus on the technicalities of it but I also had to acknowledge some key concepts that it is based on. These concepts, and particularly one of them, ended up being the most fascinating part about this art-form and it was the one that sparked a philosophical debate in my head; a debate that is yet to be settled. 

Analysing from a musician’s perspective, the fact that ‘Contact Improvisation’ can be performed without an audience was so striking for me. For the first time, I witnessed an art form that its primary focus was on the performer and not on the receiver of the performance. The goal was not to please the audience. But, to develop a connection - amongst the dance partners - deep enough, that through it they would please their creative needs. The style’s “egocentric” and empowering nature would create the perfect environment for one to express and communicate freely. 

The Music Funnel - The Internal and External Purpose

After analysing the above concept and seeing it through the eyes of a musician, I came to the following conclusion.

Music, as an entity, exists between the creator and the listener and It is used as a funnel to channel information from A (the creator) to B (the listener). From my understanding, music has an internal and an external purpose. The internal is what the artist intends to channel through this funnel. Even though it sounds like an act of externalising something; I consider it to be internal as what is intended to be channelled comes from within the artist (emotions). 

The external would be what comes out of the funnel. What information music communicates to the listener. Externally, music can be used for a variety of reasons; to entertain, to help people through an emotional crisis, to make them happy or productive, set a particular mood or even trigger revolutions sometimes - to name a few. 

We are servants of the masses

We, as performers, serve those reasons, we serve the crowd and our listeners in a very altruistic way many of the times. We mould our feelings and craft into something likeable to gain recognition and consequently, the physical reward that comes with it, if it does. How often do we create for us though? Truly expressing who we are and how we feel through this platform of expression that we built with our bare hands, spending countless hours isolated with our crazy selves.  

All the above were questions and concerns that started appearing in my head after being heavily impacted by my interaction with ‘Contact Improvisation’. In a quest to understand whether I can express myself through my craft or if even being a musician - such a liberating profession - still makes me part of a system that I cannot escape from. 

Let’s be realistic

At the end I found myself settling with the idea that the answer has to be somewhere in the middle. Of course, other than being able to express ourselves, we have to sustain ourselves through our craft. We cannot eat expression nor we can sleep under it. But what if we only perform to accomplish that sustainability? And what if in the process of making a living out of music we end up sacrificing parts of ourselves and forgetting all those pure reasons that got us into it? 

Performing or creating music without the audience in mind - physical or not - takes away a big part of the above equation (funnel). It removes the external purpose, and it liberates the artist. It takes away any concerns a musician might have as to what it might come out of that funnel, and consequently any fear of judgment or failure. After virtually removing the potential receiver of your art from your mind, you are being left with just the music and the internal purpose. I found that only then one can truly and genuinely use music as a mean to expression.

Creating a sacred space

After achieving this connection with our craft, adding an audience to the other end of the funnel, would only be a choice and not a need. I now consider this an essential stage when approaching music performance, improvisation and composition. I believe that once a musician reaches this state of mind, it can positively affect an artist’s creativity and well-being. 

To achieve a good balance between the two sides, I believe, that a musician should be able to divide their self in two - if they intend to use music as their livelihood. The first one would be the entertainer side, where a musician is transforming their craft into something sellable and crowd-pleasing; like a modern-time medieval minstrel. The second would be the creative part, a sacred place and a state of mind that needs to be left pure and untouched from anything that would interfere with its true purpose. 

"Express, let who you are come out. Become unique, non-recyclable." 

I would love to hear your thoughts on this one, please feel free...

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