Lately I’ve pondered how it is possible that the same musical composition can sound so vastly unique when performed by different performers. For example, one person conveys deep profundity through a simple composition while the same piece sounds simplistic and boring through other hands. Conversely I’ve also heard sublime compositions be rendered banal.
I seek to build upon a theme I’ve begun to acknowledge – that there is so much freedom in notated music and it is the performer’s responsibility and privilege to fill this composition as “container” with one’s self via self-expression.
Music requires self-expression in order to be expressive and mean anything to a listener. Let me provide an analogy. Imagine the musical composition as a container, such as a water bottle. That bottle has a shape, but it is empty. It is a vessel that must be filled in order to be useful…granted its aesthetic shape can be expressive, and I must admit I’ve seen some beautiful bottles in my day. This is analogous to a composition – some are beautiful in and of themselves, regardless how they are performed.
One’s self-expression is like the water that fills up a bottle. I find the analogy of water and a water bottle particularly useful in that pure water – distilled water – is quite bland in taste. In fact, it is the combination of minerals that lends unique flavor to the water. Anyone who has grown up in the country with well water is well acquainted with this fact. Similarly, just as water has encountered minerals, which give to the water additional flavor, so do our own experiences bring character to our own performances without even having to try.
In conclusion, when making music, bring the uniqueness of yourself to the music. Any additional effort than what comes naturally is likely to come across as saccharine at best or acerbic at worse. The natural flavor of your own unique experience and self is what makes the music so compelling and interesting.