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Friday, February 27, 2015

The Music Stand Plague

It was only when I realised the importance of Youtube in terms of how people currently access music, and started to video my own concerts and performances, that I realised how visually crap a lot of jazz performances are. And a huge part of why they looked crap was the number of music stands all over the stage, and all the musicians staring at them rather than making any eye contact with the audience or with each other. It's particularly horrible for the audience when a musician raises his or her stand almost to eye level, blocking the view of both player and instrument.

If you look at Youtube videos of performances from the past, you see hardly any music stands on stage, and everything looks the better for it. For an example of how a music stand might adversely affect the visual aspects of a performance, look at any video of Miles' band, or Trane's, or Monk's, and imagine that same video with Wayne, or Herbie, Elvin or McCoy etc. looking down at a music stand. It would look terrible, and doubtless we wouldn't have had the same performance if the musicians had all been reading.

Now I know why written music is more necessary on stage these days than it was then - more original compositions, (which are often complex), and less gigs and rehearsals in which to memorise and internalise these compositions. So unless we have a photographic memory, or the music is very simple, then it's probably going to be necessary to read it. But we should always be aware that we are playing for people who would probably rather see as much of the musician as possible, rather than just the top half of their face and the bottom of the instrument, with all the central aspect blocked out by a stupid music stand. People come to see us playing, they like to see hands and physical movement to correspond with what they're hearing.

For myself, I've learned from my own videos, to lower the music stand as much as possible if I can't memorise the music - and I do try and memorise it when possible. It really does help how things look to minimise music stand clutter, allow the audience to see you playing, and get some eye contact going. The same goes for having cymbal cases and gig bags thrown all over the back of the stage - it looks crap! I mean, jazz musicians generally do little enough thinking about the visual aspects of our performances (compare that to pop musicians....), so the least we can do is actually let people see us playing, and not just the bits of us that stick out from behind a music stand. People come to see a performance, not a group of people staring at something on a stand.

Let's try and get rid of the damn things! Or at least make them inconspicuous..........

1 comment:

  1. Interesting article Ronan! I have just started my own blog and the inspiration for the first article was this (thank you!) as I've thought a lot about the visual performance of jazz too. I'd be interested to see what your opinions are on the use of phones onstage as a source for charts etc.