As I mentioned in the last post we went and saw the play Souvenir last night: resilience was the major character aspect for Florence Foster Jenkins, along with a remarkable inability to hear what others heard. Artists need resilience. Up to a point I have it, though I can get quite down about things not going well, perhaps less than I once did. My wife's had to say more than once that either you do the work because you love it and want to do it and don’t care about the immediate results, or you get all depressed about it if it doesn't take off as you expect. There’s an obvious choice about which one is going to be more effective, but of course it isn’t always easy just to pick up yourself after a knockback.
Foster Jenkins’ was right to be resilient, though she was wrong in not being able to hear criticism. However, the thing that her pianist discovered ˗ at least in the play ˗ was that she could hear the right music in her head; she just couldn’t reproduce it. I think in a way that’s what a lot of artists ˗ including writers ˗ struggle with: the story, the music, the performance they have in their head isn’t matched by what they achieve in reality. I've often had a piece of music in my head that's really excited me, but trying to get it down on paper turns out to be impossible. Sometimes it turns into something altogether different which has a life of its own. Sometimes it just goes down the tubes. And then there are the piano performances I've given in my dreams...
I’ve never forgotten the story about Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, told by the woman who was page-turning for his accompanist one night. She was rapt by his performance ˗ as she should have been; he was a consummate performer and deserved all the kudos he got. But as they came off stage she heard him berating his performance as mediocre and well below his best. She was astonished because she couldn’t equate his view of it with what she’d heard. (Foster Jenkins had the opposite problem, of course.) What it did for her was disappoint her; it didn’t make her feel that striving for the best was important; criticism of your performance was important. And yes, of course it is. But that should be something you deal with yourself. Let your audience take out of the performance what it can and will. Don’t be so overwhelmed with your own performance that you become boastful; equally don’t let minor slips be a major issue; correct them if you can in the next performance.
The adjudicator at the Junior Singing Competitions this month said to the kids performing: everyone makes mistakes in performance (the actress playing Foster Jenkins made at least three slips in her lines last night that I noticed) ˗ in fact, she said, professional orchestras make an average of seven mistakes per minute in a concert. This doesn’t take away from the overall performance, which for most of the audience will be enthralling or delightful or exhilarating. Always improve, and always strive to improve. But don't pull yourself down because you haven't achieved what you hoped for.
Quite apart from anything else, even the most astute audiences fail to notice most things that go wrong in performances.