Weekly Update 3 (December 2021)

Do I find it demeaning to play music at functions? Watch to find out.


It was a busy week last week. I had a few gigs on, and also a fair bit of work in schools. My school work is winding up for the year at the moment, so I’ll have a bit more time to put into other things.

On Friday I cycled down around Corio Bay to my friend Peter’s house in Moolap, and I made this little timelapse along the way, which worked out sort of okay, and we drove from there down to Portarlington. Peter’s band Spider Jazz do gigs for the City of Greater Geelong, and this was one of those, so we had a nice time down there. A little bit windy, but quite a few appreciative people around. I might put some music from that gig up, maybe next week.

The music today comes from last Saturday when Dave Gardner and Peter Baylor (different Peter) and myself played in a trio for Marg’s 90th birthday at the Kooyong Tennis Club, so happy birthday Marg, it was great to be there with you.

If you’re wondering, by the way, why I seem to show us playing to an empty room a lot, it’s because I tend to use the recordings from the very start of the gig when people are still coming into the room. It just gives me a little bit less crowd noise in the background.

So The Mood Merchants obviously play for a lot of functions of one kind or another, and I thought I’d talk a little bit about that. When people think about music, and live music, and what musicians do, quite a lot of the time, they’re naturally enough thinking about playing on stage for people listening, maybe at festivals, maybe doing recordings, music videos, that sort of thing, because that’s obviously what people see. From the outside that’s the most visible part of what music means and what professional music is all about. And that’s totally fair enough.

What I’d like to highlight here, though, is that there’s a whole community of what we might call jobbing musicians, who go out and earn most of their living playing for weddings, for parties, for corporate things. They also play on stage from time to time, in festivals and all sorts of things, but most of their income is derived from these sort of private events, and I’m one of those people.

Now, I enjoy playing for a listening audience. I’m sure every musician does, and there’s something very special about people giving that much attention to the work that I’ve put in to being able to play my instrument, and all that sort of stuff, but I also really enjoy playing at functions, and sometimes people find that a little bit hard to believe. I quite often get people coming up to me at a function and saying something like ‘I really enjoyed the music, but it must be really hard for you to play when all these people are just talking over the top of you.’ And I really try to reassure them that it’s not hard, and that I actually do enjoy it. I think people’s perceptions are very locked into the idea that performance is about this one thing: it’s about people sitting and listening, and that any other kind of performance is sort of a let-down, and that it’s sort of demeaning somehow to me as an artist or whatever. That’s really not how I feel. There are probably some musicians who feel that way, but I’m not one of them.

I still try to think about a function audience as an audience. I know they’re not paying attention to me in the same way as they would be if I was on stage, but I’m still trying to play my best for them, and I’m trying to create a little bit of happiness for those people that maybe wasn’t there before. And I’m trying to do that in probably more subtle ways, than I would if I was onstage playing for them. So I’m trying to just find the right tempo, the right feel, the right volume, the right repertoire, that’s just going to connect with them, and maybe enable them to interact a little bit with it. It might be that they have a little dance or a little sing, or something like that, or it might be more subtle. Perhaps it’s the way that they move when they walk into the room, I can tell that they’re just engaging with that music slightly, or you see a foot tapping or something like that. So it’s not the same, obviously, as getting a standing ovation at the end of a song, but in a function gig, things are different. You’re looking for different kinds of signals that you’re connecting with people in different kinds of ways. And for me, that’s still a rewarding thing to do. It’s certainly not the same as being on stage at a festival, but it’s a rewarding thing to be out there playing music for people, and hopefully making them a little bit happy.

Do I feel demeaned playing music for people who are not actively listening to me all the time? No, I don’t. To me, there’s a distinction between those two modes of performance, and I like to think of it as the difference between an artist and a craftsman. So an artist might make a painting, and that painting might hang on the wall in a gallery, and you might come and sit in front of that painting and stare at it for an hour and have a really rich, really deep interaction with that piece, and that might be a really fantastic experience. And obviously, I’m all for that.

But then I think about a craftsman, who might have made a piece of furniture, and that furniture might sit in your house with a bowl of fruit on top of it or something, but in addition to being something that you sit the fruit on, it’s also something beautiful that you walk past every day and that just makes you feel a little bit good to know that somebody’s created this with care, and that it’s a really high quality thing that you get to enjoy being around, not necessarily as a special art experience, but just as a part of your everyday life.

So I think of playing onstage as being the artist part of what I do, and then I think of playing in functions as being like the craftsman part of what I do. I’m fairly sure that the craftsman who created the sideboard is taking just as much care as the artist who created the painting, and I think that’s important. I value them equally. I think they’re different modes of communicating with people, and they’re different kinds of creativity, and creation, and they’re different ways to find your way into people’s lives and to hopefully make them a little bit better.

So, I could talk about this all day, but I’m going to leave this one here, and I’ll catch you again next week.

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