Having spent a number of years as a violist thinking about how I wanted to use my body to shape the sound I wanted, I did not connect that it is how sound interacts with other human bodies that defines the way a performance is received—that listening to a performance is more than just hearing it. Though the aural experience is an elemental part of listening, it is only part of a full-body experience. The more I listen, the more aware I become that listening is not restricted to the ears alone—the way a powerful brass chorale pushes my torso against the fabric of my seat, the way a deep bass line finds its way from the floor up through the soles of my feet, the way a particular suspension brings tears to my eyes, the way the most quietly intense passages make me simultaneously lean forward into them and feel the beat of my heart. Taking in a live performance is a contact sport, and, despite how passive one may feel, it actively stimulates all the senses.
“The performance of music is the creation of an illusion.”
The performance of music is the creation of an illusion. So many mechanical actions need to take place in order to produce a single note, and so many more are required to ensure that each note connects to those that precede and follow it, much less those that are simultaneously sounded by other instruments: how a phrase, a texture, feels weightless or heavy; that the phrases created match those around them to produce either continuity or intended disruption; that music is present even in the absence of sound; that pauses are either charged with tension or moments of serenity. All of this contributes to the construction of a narrative, either literal or abstract—that we are witnesses to a story telling itself for the first time, no matter how familiar audience or performer may feel they are with a piece. The reality of music is that in its best moments it feels as if it is creating itself before the listener.