Christmas eve is upon us now. There is an unique excitement that is exists within the hearts of children during this time as they imagine what might await them underneath the christmas tree. Likewise, there can be quite a lot of excitement for adults during this time, but it is a different type of excitement. The excitement and joy of adults is looking forward to witnessing their children open presents and express sheer elation for receiving that one special gift. I can think of a few special gifts that I received when I was younger that will always have a special meaning to me.
Much like the young man in the movie "A Christmas Story" Coveting a "Red Rider BB Gun", I can still remember playing with my "He-Man" Power Sword for hours and hours. To be honest however, it is not really the toy that I remember playing with, but the great stories I would concoct from my imagination. Much like props in stage play, the toy was never the main focal point of any story, but merely an item that was used to accentuate an already rich and deep storyline...or as rich and deep as I could muster at 6 years old.
I still love playing with toys, but I do wonder if I could really play with toys with as much imagination as a child anymore, simply because it isn't something I get to do everyday. Imagination is not something you can turn on and off when you feel like it, but it is a skill that must be practiced as vigilantly as one practices their scales or solo repertoire.
Percussionists are lucky in that we still get to play with our toys and, much to my wife's dismay, we have quite a few of them to choose from. With all these instruments, however, there is the danger for me as a performer to focus on the physical instrument and the perceived qualities as the focal point of my art rather than using my imagination to discover what I can do with these instruments. It is easy to fixate on how pretty your new snare drum looks in your stage setup or how cool all your woodblocks look lined up on a trap table, but visual ascetics aside, these instruments mean nothing if you can't imagine the sounds you want to make with them. If we are able to focus on our artistry and what we can do with our instruments, rather than the instrument itself, we can truly begin to make music.
Artists that have managed to captured a level of imagination and curiosity for experimentation using their instruments as the vessel for expression have helped propel our art form by giving performances that are thought provoking and inspirational. They may or may not be conscience of their imagination, but by giving themselves permission to play with their instruments, they can try new and interesting things without the care for what is correct or proper. Most audience members are usually excited to see this level of playfulness, even if they may not enjoy the work itself, because, much like adults on Christmas morning, it's fascinating to watch an imagination at work. Remember that the audience comes to a concert to see you perform and not your instrument. Therefore an instrument is only as good as our imagination.
I wanted to share a quick video of a very special artist, Laurie Anderson, whom I think exemplifies this sense of playfulness and imagination because she has allowed herself to have fun and try things with out worry of whether they work or not. This video was taken at the New York Public Library and is entitled "The Singing Violin". In this video, Laurie Anderson places a pillow speaker in her mouth in order to mimic the sound of a violin as she sings just because she wanted to see what would happen.