This public forum gives me a strange sense of connectivity; I’m having a conversation with you, but, except for a few, I don’t know who you are. That feeling takes me back thirty years to the nights when I hosted a midnight radio jazz show on WCUW, 91.3 in Worcester, MA. Save for the occassional call-in request from a fellow Clark University student, I had no idea if anyone was listening.
I suppose that is a sensation shared by writers, painters, and all creators of works presented in absentia, so to speak. Even musicians have no idea what feelings they evoke for people listening to their recordings, but at least they also get to perform for live audiences.
John Coltrane is reported* to have said:
It seems to me that the audience in listening is an act of participation, you know. And when somebody is moved as you are…it’s just like having another member of the group…the emotional reaction is all that matters.
As potentially inspiring for the creator as live performance might be, it is not something to which I aspire, for I am prone to stage fright. I vaguely remember my mother telling me about a preschool dance recital where, afraid to go on, I danced my part in the wings, and I clearly remember a few childhood piano recitals that left me quivering, if not cowering. I don’t quiver or cower too much these days, but butterflies still visit me prior to facing any live audience.
[*The Coltrane quote came from Frank Kofsky’s Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music, but I read it in Neil Leonard’s Jazz: Myth and Religion (Oxford University Press, 1987).]