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December, 2001
Editorial Musings
More About "Performing in the Zone"

Last month I included several quotes from musicians about that heightened state of awareness that performers occasionally experience in concert when everything "clicks" and they feel like the music is playing them. (see November's Musings) In looking for more quotes describing this state I ran across a rather long description at the very end of Stewart Gordon's "Etudes for Piano Teachers" (1995/2001 Oxford University Press). The last chapter is entitled "Vision" and has four sections: "The Physical", "The Intellectual", "The Emotional" and "The Spiritual". It is in the context of this last section that Gordon discusses the search for spiritual values. His analysis of this spiritual search is interesting (the paragraphs leading up to this quote) and his description of this ultimate state of performance is insightful and comprehensive:

". . . Indeed, ultimately not even success in achieving spiritual elevation matters, but rather only the striving, only the effort, supreme as it is, only the longing and the yearning matters. Such longing and yearning brings in its process complete and abject humility, a loss of life as we usually live it. Then at that moment -- in that split second, at the bottom of the abyss, in some totally mysterious way -- the breakthrough comes, and once it has happened, one is never sure why or how it happened. Certainly one is never able to repeat it at will, but only to go on back to the yearning and the work and the hope that sometime it will become more of a reality. It is about such matters that Paul of Tarsus spoke of seeing through a glass darkly.

"Indeed all of this can and does happen in the context of our musical lives at rare times. There can be a performance . . . It is usually by a musician who has endured his or her own spiritual quest. And since these things are never able to be planned, such an artist -- who unsuspectingly goes out to perform as reverently as possible, with as much emotion and understanding as possible -- somehow during the course of that performance brings together a totality which takes on a meaning much greater than the sum of the elements that went into it. When or how it happens becomes unimportant. One only knows that there is a kind of communication which transcends all normal form of description. One is moved so deeply that one feels nothing at all except a profound sense of calm. One knows only that one is caught up in something so rare and so special that it may be given to share only a few times during the course of one's life. A sense of wonder and even detachment is all a part of the indescribable state that consumes all who share. And then it is over . . . and when it is over, applause or display becomes an unspeakable vulgarity. We want only to depart in humble silence and to try to keep even the smallest glow of the warmth from the embers of so incredible an experience.

"For saints, the means by which such transcendence may happen is through contemplation and prayer. But for us musicians, the means through which it is apt to happen is very definitely entering into the music itself. From this kind of experience, even if very rare indeed, we know that in some ways we have been most blessed, that we have been a part of a universal life force, that our art is more than a means of entertainment, or means of personal development, or even a means of communication of emotional or intellectual values. We know without doubt that our art is linked so closely to the roots of the universal mystery that it can on occasion put us in direct contact with the forces of creation, the very highest echelon of whatever order produced the universe.

"Whatever it is, is so closely intertwined with our art that for us the two become momentarily inseparable, and in a mystical way our life does become one with music, and music one with our life."

This statement ends Gordon's book "Etudes for Piano Teachers: Reflections on the Teacher's Art". Its description of spiritual trancendency seems to be an exact echo of Edwin Fischer's quote last month.
If you know of any other quotes describing this experience please send them to PianoWomenEditor@aol.com.

by Rose Eide-Altman , editor
published November 30, 2001
copyright 2001 PianoWomen.com

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