Standing Still While You Perform

August 14, 2008 at 08:58 PM · In another thread someone wrote: "Watching her [i.e.- Hilary Hahn] perform... you can see that she truly is an artist. She doesn't dance around the stage and bob her head up and down when she reaches the climax of the peace, she just plays very gracefully and very maturely!

I'm astounded to see this mentioned as the mark of a true artist. I personally find the classical tradition of the soloist standing dead still to be unpleasant. I guess this tradition reflects the idea that the soloist is supposed to be "channeling" the Spirit of the composer or something. The musician is supposed to fade into the background and act like a window through which the audience can look to see the landscape of the piece. I don't believe that it's possible or desirable for a performer to totally remove him/herself from the performance equation.

I was looking at a few Nigel Kennedy videos on YouTube and noticed some intensely negative comments about how he moves around on the stage. I know he can get very flamboyant but in these clips the movement amounted to a couple little hops during intensely rhythmic, dramatic passages and once walking over to face a lute player during a passage where he was playing a duet with the lutenist. The comments made it obvious that this body language was way over the top to some people's taste.

I much prefer the performing style of jazz musicians, who move a bit in response to the music. To me, B.B. King is an example of perfect stage presence.

How do you all feel about this? Do you move when you're performing?

Replies (27)

August 14, 2008 at 09:47 PM · Forgive me if my remark on the "Hilary thread" was falsely read; I was not saying that the absolute mark of an artist is standing perfectly still while playing (I don't believe I ever said that). There are some magnificent violinists that move around a lot when they play yet still produce a wonderful sound (Joshua Bell, Janine Jansen, Nigel Kennedy, etc.). It is, however, my preference to watch or listen to someone play (live) that is not overly flamboyant on the stage. The audience is supposed to pay attention to the music, not to the person moving around on the stage, am I right? That does not, however, mean that people that move around a lot are not "good," so to say. Once again, just my personal preference.

August 15, 2008 at 12:40 AM · I think that you will find that almost all of the great instrumentalists are quite still as they play. They put it all into the instrument. If you can emote through the instrument, you don't need to move much. Certainly never taking steps or large lunging movements. That would be counter productive. Good technique is only hindered by extraneous body movements. Heifetz was extremely still, yet still very expressive if you watch him closely, so fluid. Perlman moves a little more, but when the music gets technical it all comes into line and is focused through the instrument. I can't watch Bell, he plays very well,I lke to listen to him, but from the school I was taught in, it just seems so awkward and strained. I expect to hear of physical problems with his body before too long - much like YoYo Ma had serious back problems in the 80's due to his very unorthodoxed style he used when he was young. Both, so incredibly gifted and physically talented that nothing can keep them from playing well.

August 15, 2008 at 01:26 AM · Classical music got associated with conservative thinking, and so some of the people it attracts are ones who think flamboyant people need to be rounded up and thrown in jail.

I saw a Josh Bell video once, and I got the impression a lot of his movements seemed to be ones that precluded him from playing anything except the way he played it, but it sounded fine.

August 15, 2008 at 02:48 AM · If a basketball player has career free-throw shooting of 90%, does it really matter what the mechanics of his shot look like?

I wouldn't care if Oistrakh had to hang upside on a trapeze to produce music the way he did. Fortunately that wasn't necessary for him, but you see my point.

August 15, 2008 at 03:53 AM · I always wonder how Maxim Vengerov hit the right string with the right bow stroke with such aggresive movements.

I love watching Maxim's movements. Maxim is also one of the rare violinist that actually smile when playing, and that McDonald eyebrow he has haha!

August 15, 2008 at 04:08 AM · I like to watch musicians who I can see enjoy being where they are when they are. Some folks are fairly still, others move a bit.

The extremes get annoying-people who look like robots, or the other end-people who do all manner of esoteric over the top gymnastics. Some movement is good and necessary for balance and aiding technique in certain moments. Most things taken to extremes are bad.

August 15, 2008 at 05:07 AM · I enjoy a performance that is full of passion and deep feeling in the sound of the music. If I experience a performance which doesn't deliver this, but is accompanied by dramatic body contortions, I feel cheated. You may ask: "What about a performance that does both?"....I have yet to see one!! All the performances that have moved and inspired me have had movement which was beautifully coordinated and natural to the technical requirements of the music, and were completely devoid of phony histrionics or struggling.

August 15, 2008 at 04:44 AM · Whilst vacationing last week, I caught a most interesting performance by a young unnamed violinist, accompanied by the Freeway Philharmonic Regional Festival Pickup Band.

This concert featured a famous violin showpiece with nifty French opera tunes. During the coda, which has a flashy accelerando, the violinist started spinning around in circles. Yes, spinning, six or seven times, with the train of her dress spinning around with her.

Now THAT was something new. I guess facial grimaces, gazes into the heavens, foot stomps, knee bends, dips from the waist, hair tosses, and everyone's favorite, grunting noises, are not enough anymore. I guess violin soloists now need to start spinning around while they play, like a deranged whirling dervish.

Which is fine and all. But it was a shame about the unfortunate intonation lapses that happened before all the whirly-gigging. Bleh.

August 16, 2008 at 01:24 AM · Don't worry about, no one in the audience cares.

August 16, 2008 at 01:43 AM · I think every violinist should strive to be as genuine as possible when they perform. That is, they should be completely who they ARE as a person when performing. Some people feel most comfortable moving with the music when they perform (me!) but others are more stoic. I think both styles are okay, as long as the performer isn't putting on some sort of fake facade.

That was kind of wordy, but if you feel like moving, MOVE. If you feel like being physically quiet, be quiet. I find that when i play to bring joy to myself, instead of trying to give the audience what they "want to see" my performances are always better.

August 16, 2008 at 02:45 PM · Most people see better than they hear, so if you're fun to watch, you're ahead of the game.

August 16, 2008 at 11:02 PM · Whilst vacationing last week, I caught a most interesting performance by a young unnamed violinist, accompanied by the Freeway Philharmonic Regional Festival Pickup Band.

This concert featured a famous violin showpiece with nifty French opera tunes. During the coda, which has a flashy accelerando, the violinist started spinning around in circles. Yes, spinning, six or seven times, with the train of her dress spinning around with her.

Now THAT was something new. I guess facial grimaces, gazes into the heavens, foot stomps, knee bends, dips from the waist, hair tosses, and everyone's favorite, grunting noises, are not enough anymore. I guess violin soloists now need to start spinning around while they play, like a deranged whirling dervish.

Which is fine and all. But it was a shame about the unfortunate intonation lapses that happened before all the whirly-gigging. Bleh.

ha ha ha ha ha I'm getting the funniest image of this in my head. (If anyone has seen the Disney movie Enchanted I'm visualizing Giselle in the Central Park Scene)

August 16, 2008 at 11:13 PM · I don't think that the fact that Heifetz kept perfectly still makes him a better musician then, say, Bell or Vengerov...i don't think moving around on the stage is a big issue.

Some people, like me, do not play well when they are moving. But even if I sound a lot better if I keep still, I probable don't sound near as great as Vengerov dancing around the stage.

I have never considered the visual aspect of a musical performance as a part of the art of what the person means to convey.

So I must agree with you on your opposition on the statement about Hilary Hahn, and a "true artist." But I think it counts for both ways, excessive (or moderate even) moving and keeping still.

August 17, 2008 at 04:17 AM · It is easier to stay focused if you are not moving around while you play. I like to feel as though I am in control when I play, and haphazard dancing takes away energy that I could be putting into violin playing.

September 1, 2008 at 12:00 AM · I recently made as my computer screen wallpaper the famous painting of Niccolo Paganini done by Eugene Delacroix, who I believe actually observed the famous violinist playing. But I never really looked at it carefully until recently. It is really great as a painting. But even more interesting is not only Paganini's unique stance, but the facial expression (with what looks like eyes closed) of intense concentration. One really does wonder, in spite of all of the literary raptures of those who tried to describe Paganini as a performer, what his stage presence really was like. Looking at this great painting, one gets the impression that his face may very well have had the kind of absolute focus but without grimaces, the kind of grimace-less expression as one sees in many famous violinists of the past and present. Given his characteristic and unusual stance, it does not appear, however, that he would have stood stock still, like Heifetz. Anyway, Google it and take a look. What do you think?

Sandy

September 3, 2008 at 02:51 AM · I dunno... I have mixed feelings on it... It's like Hilary puts no emotion in her playing, But she is more pleasant to watch than Joshua Bell or Itzhak Perlman making those gross facial expressions...

Just a personal thing i guess

September 3, 2008 at 04:06 AM · just because Perlman is making funny faces at you doesn`t mean you should take it personally;)

September 3, 2008 at 04:10 AM · I say let the music do the moving.

Many people I think mistake physical exertion and grimaces for being musical.

September 3, 2008 at 04:28 AM · A few years ago I watched a student quartet performance at Julliard. The first violinist was moving so much I was seriously concerned someone would be impaled by the bow and it would turn into a gruesome contact sport. Needless to say, it was very distracting. My vote is for moderation. Oh sorry, are we only talking about soloists here...well, I still vote for moderation.

September 3, 2008 at 12:12 PM · Playing the violin is a physical feat. Therefore there will be movement no matter what. We all fall into a range between Heifetz and Gidon Kremer. I say if you're going to move, move for a reason and don't move if it is going to impede your playing.

If you watch Midori, Bell, Jansen, you'll see that although they may bend at the waist the violin never changes its position to their body. In essence they DO remain completely still except for their waist.

I like to move, not a lot but with just enough I'd say. I do like to think about it when I practice though. If I'm having trouble with a certain spot it will enter my mind as troubleshooting and affecting what I do and will adjust accordingly.

September 3, 2008 at 04:33 PM · I'm not sure I can agree with Marina's comment as it pertains to Midori. I caught her recital at the Disney Hall several months ago and was amazed at the steep angles assumed by her violin as a result of her body movements. Personally I found it a bit distracting, though it is impressive that she can keep a straight bow under the circumstances.

September 3, 2008 at 10:49 PM · Greetings,

I think the players Marina mentions do change the instrument postion to some degree as this often increases tehcnical efficiency. Those are the key words. What they also share in common is very efificent use of the head, neck back relationship referred to as primary control in AT. This does not actually imply good posture as we conventionally think of it. A violnist who is slupmed and doing the most terrible looking gyrations may well still have good prmary control and therefore play superbly. Midori is a case in point. I have to close my eyes but I have heard her play on the day as well as any violnist who has ever lived.

Cheer,s

Buri

September 4, 2008 at 03:31 PM · My thinking is that movement is OK as long as it's a side effect - the core focus should be on the music and tone production, and if you have to move a bit, or a bit more to achieve that, then fine.

I guess there's quite a few aspects to movement to think about from physical (stamina, posture, fluidity) things, to technical (reorienting the body to assist with technical passages/chords/fingering/etc) to musical (perhaps some physical movement assists with the musical expression?).

I think trying to stand absolutely still is detrimental as a lot of the physical force and movement in the arms and fingers would have to be counteracted/absorbed by the body itself, causing unnecessary tension. Similarly, excessive movement would in theory result in energy being spent unnecessarily as well as affecting the microscopic accuracy required for intonation and bow control.

I wonder if moving (or not moving) in a way opposite to how you play naturally is a good experiment? I know in body language role-plays, placing your body in different positions can help project different feelings/emotions - perhaps the same can work in music performance. Hmmm..

September 9, 2008 at 03:19 AM · I assume this question is really asking the broader question often asked here of whether or not someone should keep still or emote with one's body or face.

It seems to me that if you are playing in an orchestra, you probably should keep perfect posture and concentrate on playing accurately. I am imagining a few excellent violinists I know of who keep a perfect posture and play at a very high level.

On the other hand, if you have advanced your artistry to the level of star soloist, it probably depends on whatever you want to do.

I will never forget the time I saw cellist Pieter Wispelwey perform. The orchestra started but his part did not start for a while, so he closed his eyes and absorbed the music, swaying to the music. I really think he absorbed it into his being. Then when he played, it was an extremely athletic and emotional event.

Then he encored with Bach's difficult suite #6 for solo cello. He announced that he usually plays that piece with a five-string cello, as was written by Bach, but he left his five-string cello back in Netherlands, so he said he would make the best of it with his four-sting cello.

Wow! His whole being was filled with expression. I can still hear him breathing and swaying -- possessed -- as he masterly played the piece.

When you are at that level of perfection where you have already mastered your playing and you absorb the music as an artist, you can probably emote a little.

I have seen Joshua Bell play just few feet from me with his eyes closed and expressiveness deep in his face -- although I don't think he moved. I also have seen great concertmasters rip into excellent solos with great enthusiasm. At that level of expertise, I think they are beyond playing well. They are the music.

Some ticket-buying fans probably want a star soloist to exhibit at least a little bit of entertainer traits -- such as the athletic Leila Josefowicz as an obvious example. I remember a time I saw a soprano, who wore a gorgeous gold dress and an air of star appeal, bring down the house singing Mozart arias with real power and elegance.

Then again, the great Heifetz was notorious for standing like a statue while he played the most difficult works perfectly -- and fast. He also has been accused of having music that is icy cold.

In contrast, if you listen to concertos of the great cellist Jacqueline du Pre -- such as Dvorak or Haydn -- you will hear her take liberties with the music for the sake of personal expressiveness. That resulted in some spectacular live performances of an artist at a different level than most people on this planet. She was no icy statue.

So I would praise someone who kept a still posture and concentrated on playing well, but I would never criticize an artist at a high level for absorbing the music and displaying emotion while playing, nor would I criticize a soloist for standing like a statue.

September 9, 2008 at 03:07 AM · Greetings,

theinteresting thing about Du Pre was that she had a very clear centre of poise. That is true of all the great players who gyrate. It when lesser players emulate them without having a clue about this extraordinary degree of rootedness that things go horribly awry.

Cheers,

Buri

September 9, 2008 at 03:15 AM · Thanks for that insight, Sensei Brivati. Artistry follows good form and does not replace it.

September 9, 2008 at 05:31 AM · Too much extranious movement of the limbs, or of the eyes, can lessen the decorum of both the violinist and the piece being played. I believe that it is bad taste to move unnecessarly when performing, as well as being harmful to the physics of both bowing and acoustics, respectivly. Performers of popular music are sometimes expected, possibly by contractual agreements, to move about in eccentric fashions, but as I hope not to give away trade secrets, when this is witinessed, it is usually done when the performer is "violin-synching". It is a marketing trick used by producers to sweeten up their videos, and to make the viewer see what is not there, thus sell their videos, but you most likely will not see it done live. Paganini was well noted to move about "as if in a fit", stamping violently during passages,etc, which he did because he could. There are some exceptions to the rule, but most performers are usually very lacking in any real musical worth, and is only using the instrument as a visual prop. You should never see it done at all, as it conveys an are of rudeness to the performance in general. as for the Nigel Kennedy video, as a baroque violinist myself, I find that he has done great things for authentic baroque performance, and is very talented, but tends to lack artistic control and his performance(as well as his reputation) has been harmed by it. It makes you wonder what's on his mind...

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