Sometimes in musical performance everything flows effortlessly and you have a feeling of being at one with the music and the audience. You are in commune with the listeners and the music seems to travel directly from you to them, transporting you all to a different place. Great music at these times can seem to have a mystical dimension.
Athletes have a similar experience when their concentration is completely focused on the task in hand and they are able to surpass themselves. They call it being “in the zone”. I aim to achieve this state in every performance but sometimes it can be easier than others.
So, what is the “zone” in question? Where is it and how do you get there?
Firstly you have to be as well prepared as you possibly can be; so intimately acquainted with the music that it is part of you. Any technical hurdles must be effortlessly within your grasp so that there is no barrier preventing you from cutting through to the meaning of the music, the inner life of the score.
All practical things must be addressed too: is the instrument in tip top condition? are you on top form? (I find eating the right things before a concert helps concentration; fish can be good but other musicians prefer chocolate, bananas, nuts, chicken…). Sometimes conditions on stage can be an extra challenge – I have encountered cathedrals so cold that your fingers go white, modern auditoriums so hot that you have to wave your instrument out of the window to cool it down in the interval, country house events where cats walk onto the stage in the middle of your sonata. But really that just adds to the fun. These things must not distract you!
When walking out to on stage the performer must try to put their whole focus into what they are playing and what it means. Musical notes are nothing on their own but if you focus on their meaning, that will radiate out to the audience and convey musical truth. The musician is the pilot taking her listeners on a journey, the story teller conveying them to another world…
In summary, if you concentrate with intensity on the music – how you want it to sound, what you want it to say – then you are “in the zone” and you can take the audience with you. One of the thrills for me of musical performance is that although it can seem to make you, the interpreter, the centre of attention, in fact quite the reverse is true: it renders you invisible as you serve the music.