Why do we perform in recitals?

This is great question that was brought up by a parent of a student that performed in my schools recitals a few months ago.  The student is taking ukulele lessons from one of our teachers.  This was his first recital, and he played Happy Birthday perfectly!  But his mom said on the drive over that her son asked her, “why do we do recitals?” And this inspired a brief but insightful conversation I had with his mom about why we perform.  She said that she and her husband are also performers so it posed an interesting introspection for them as well.

And that begs the question, why do we as artists and musicians perform?  What is the inspiration and motivation to show other people our passion in the form of a musical performance, acting performance or anything else?  She expressed to her son that we perform to show others something that maybe we can’t express in other ways, which I agreed with, and particularly with music, as it is an abstract language.  We can express things with music that are otherwise difficult to pinpoint using our verbal language.  Music has the ability to tell stories rooted in history, ethnicities and cultures while also articulating nuanced thoughts and feelings that are otherwise difficult to express.

 It feels like it is something ingrained within human beings in the core of our DNA, dating back countless years, as an intrinsic need and desire to show other people what we are passionate about.  In the case of music, as it is a somewhat abstract language, it allows us to express feelings and ideas that words may not be able to articulate, or it enhances the English language’s ability to communicate nuanced ideas and emotions.  

There are many ancient depictions of musicians playing with and for each other.

There are many ancient depictions of musicians playing with and for each other.

When a musician is performing, and when they are experienced, they start to get into a very specific state of mind while playing. Whether they are in a band or performing solo, there is a fascinating experience that comes about that one could only describe as being in a state of “flow.”  Many things contribute to this, and it’s a combination of one’s ability to harness all the tools that they have learned how to master that makes music what it is, all at once.  Rhythm, expression, dynamics, tempo; all of these elements combine into one’s ability to commandeer the instrument’s sound and capabilities into one all consuming experience.  I’ve experienced this state of “flow” while performing with my old band several times, and when I played piano as a teenager.  Its a state of mind where a lot of thoughts tend to exit out of one’s brain and one can just “feel” their way through the performance.  While I don’t enjoy performing anymore (it’s much too stressful, and my shaky pedal foot always belied my extreme nervousness!), I can see many students get into their state of flow where the hours of practicing comes out in their elegant execution of all of these elements, where they can take a moment to allow others to hear what they are passionate about.  When an audience is sitting quietly and preparing to listen, they are giving an opportunity to the performer to share, in that moment, what the performer has worked very hard over many days and hours of practicing to create and show. The performer is able to express their passion and pride in their accomplishments through their musical performance.

It’s a beautiful thing to witness, especially as I only get to see the kids perform every 6 months or so, improving upon their musical tools continuously so they can get the chance to express themselves to others through a language we all seem to universally understand.