Focus and Meditation

Focus in music making is obviously a vital part of performance. I like to think I brought reasonable focus to the concert stage but recently I took a course in meditation, which has helped me become aware of the ease with which my mind can wander – even at the most inopportune times! I have, in the past, caught myself wondering if the audience was enjoying the performance or thinking about post-concert speeches during a performance. Once, during a performance of Mahler’s 9th symphony, I became acutely aware of a medical emergency taking place behind and to my left in the upper stalls of a hall. My concern for the person, as well as my awareness of the medic’s actions bifurcated my attention. The person pulled through and the performance was a success but I was aware that my focus was compromised.

The best way to combat these issues of total attention that I have found has been in comprehensive study. Having a clear sense of the structure of a piece certainly gives great focus and brings progression to an interpretation. I have found that memorizing music helps focus my interpretations, as well.

Beginning meditation has further helped me understand my tendencies in terms of focus. Breath awareness meditation has certainly allowed me to ponder what comes up from the recesses of my mind! Using the skills that I have slowly developed have also brought dividends to my focus during conducting. I would like to think that it allows me to further ride the structural devices of works and hopefully bring clarity to these musical signposts to the audience.

Probably the most famous classical musician who practiced meditation was Yehudi Menuhin. The maestro’s work with meditation convinced him that intuition should be combined with analysis to achieve what he called “true spontaneity”.

Recently I was in Tasmania working with one of my most very favorite orchestras – the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. One of the concerts I had was a performance with James Morrison – quite possibly the most talented musician I have ever met. During this particular performance, James was using the extraordinary drummer/percussionist, David Jones. 

I don’t think I have ever seen any musician quite as physically at ease with his instrument as David. He and his instrument(s) are as one in performance. Somehow we got to talking about things and it turned out that he spent the entire afternoon at a Buddhist meditation center (also making quite the nicest chai I have ever had!). It also turned out that other members of the band also meditated. 

There are surely many ways to achieving focus but it was certainly inspirational to me to work with and observe artists such as these and recognize that maybe in some small way, their meditative work brought great depth and understanding to their music making.