Wednesday, February 6, 2008

A la Mode

So I've been driving an hour and a half each way every second Saturday or so to take lessons from this ultra-famous guy who just happens, through some epileptic fit on the part of the universe, to be living in Indiana for a couple of months. Famous Man differs from my old teacher insofar as he is a foot taller, a decade younger, and completely without breasts. He also has a lot of shiny new things to say to me, which maybe -maybe- makes him worth the $1.25 per minute fee he charges.

It took me an obscene, colossal, blitheringly idiotic amount of time to figure out that $1.25 a minute was equivalent to $75 an hour, which actually isn't unheard of in the grand scheme of lessons from Famous Men. (Maybe I oughtn't to have spent math trying to figure out how to roll my tongue while memorizing the first 57 digits of pi.) But using the minute as your unit of measurement seems crueler, somehow: you go to blow your nose and by the time your snot hits the trash can, you've spent $2.50.

But it's worth it. (Worth it, worth it worth it worth it.) Famous Man has disgorged lots of interesting tidbits about tongue position, vowel play, and making space inside you, all of which sounds far dirtier and more interesting than it actually is. He's also clued me in to the fact that, when done well, performance is pretty much just flirting.

This explains a lot about the massive ambivalence I've felt, over the years, toward performing. I love it and I hate it; I can't quite hack it but I swing the axe anyway. It makes me feel terrified, queasy, uneasy, alive. Which is about how I feel when I flirt. No, let's be honest: I don't flirt. Flirtation for me is a leaden affair lightened only by the assurance that, somewhere along the line, you will both either have to eat something or fall over.

I'm even uncomfortable with the idea of flirting: it smacks of artifice. But then, isn't performance essentially artifice on display? The very act of performing -of one person monologuing while another silently absorbs- is antithetical to natural, conversational communication. So why not crank it up a notch? Why not show a little leg, so to speak? Maybe Famous Man is onto something: take two equally talented classical musicians, and the more galvanizing performer will always be the flirt.

In fact, isn't it possible that classical music is waning in popularity in part because it's forgotten how to giggle and make eyes? I accidentally watched Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers perform a set during the Superbowl (c.f. the hazards of sharing a TV) and what struck me most forcefully was not Tom Petty's flat upper register but how the band played, actively, to the audience. The Heartbreakers faced outward and made eye contact. They had moves.

Contrast this with classical musicians, who tend to face inward, look at each other, and stay still. Classical musicians are hampered, I think, by the idea that they're creating art. Art deserves to be taken seriously. Art is the kind of girl you marry, not the girl you get drunk on a whim.

Art and I both need to get our flirt on. Wanna share some pi? 3.141592653589793238462643383279... Wait, where are you going?

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