I spent the day today subbing in on lead keyboard for a local production of A Chorus Line. Being a sub is an interesting predicament. Most of your energy is spent on staying alert, giving cues, being cognizant of tempo, and praying that you play all (or most) of the right notes. The predicament lies in the fact that, as I see it, the job of the Music Director or First Keyboard (which are often one in the same), is to support the actors.
What is support?
In singing, we spend a lot of time talking about the ever-ambiguous concept of support. When I teach voice lessons, I do my best to demystify the term. Support, in terms of the voice, is the use of breath and musculature to literally support the production of sound. Breathe in. Engage the abdominals, intercostals, and back. Slowly release your breath as your simultaneously create sound. Use the muscles to be in control of this release. It is an expansive, beautiful process.
I approach music directing in much the same way. Technique, tempo, and cues are all a part of providing the singers and musicians with support. Moreover, though, comes musicality. The best musical directors will breathe into every phrase that they play. There is so much that is contained in a single breath. That one breath equals infinite possibility.
“Inspiration” has many meanings. Most commonly, it is used to refer to influence. It also, however, can mean that act of breathing. A moment of breath is a moment of inspiration.
I’m afraid that my playing today was not very inspired. I played most of the right notes, did my best to uphold the music director’s tempos, volume, and cues, and I did not run into any major train wrecks. But I wasn’t breathing. I was holding my breath for the entire two hours of the show. Nerves ousted musicality. I let small disappointments and flubs unravel me. Most alarmingly, I wasn’t listening. I’m sure I will write a later post on the value of listening in regards to both music and life. Today I forgot to listen. Listening to the singers and the other musicians will always right your ship and point you home. Closing them out, holding your breath, and only focusing on your own piece of the puzzle will only leave you with a few edges. Even on stressful, “I’m subbing in on a show I’ve never played before” situations, heart and integrity must guide the way.
The good news is that I’m playing the show two more times next week. Hopefully, next time, we’ll all breathe together.