Saturday, May 29, 2010

This Is It

Yes, I know this movie was released Oct. 2009. Ok, if I'm a little behind the times. (I'm used to that.) Sure it might be an overly positive posthumous reflection on Michael Jackson. But you know what—it inspired me. It made me honor being a performer, reminded me to take charge of producing my vision and that I entertain for the audience, not myself.

Steve and I watched all of the extras. The music director said that Michael stated, “We use our gifts to help other people find their gifts.” Wow! Maybe that’s why people have idols. Maybe that’s what mythic figures and Hindu gods are—beings that recognize their gifts so that others may see a way to access theirs.

When I watch MJ dance, I love how he stops. It’s the silence after the stop that grabs me. There is such a presence of pulling in all of the energy to that point, that a void is created. That void creates a combination of suspense and sustain at the same time.

Listening to him sing “Human Nature,” I just loved how the second utterance of “why” comes on the and of two. Musically it creates that same experience. Yes, there is the push of energy and surprise from the syncopation; if you divide the 4/4 measure into eighths notes, that syncopation actually creates a wonderfully arrhythmic 3/8 & 5/8. Still, for me the beauty is in the absence of the expected pulse—the void.

The movie showed a wonderful duality of him listening at times and asserting his vision at others. When his earphones were too loud, he was visibly upset, but took the stance that he would have to get used to it. He was so generous with those who worked with him. Yet he took control. He wanted to cue the start of a song that would line up with a video change behind him. When the director asked MJ how he would do that without seeing the video, MJ simply said that he would feel when to come in. He knew when insisting on creating what he wanted would raised the bar for all involved, and when being directed was the right thing for the sake of the show.

You can see MJ dance and you know it’s him. It’s his style. At times though, it seemed his moves weren’t appropriate to the song lyrics, and it looked like his dance was a caricature of himself. I often wonder when is something we do our style or our habit? I’m always looking to play differently: to stretch myself and my ears. Sometimes that’s great. At other times it ties me in a knot because everything sounds like something I’ve heard or done before. Then there’s the dilemma of giving the audience what they want.

There’s a song that Steve and I play, “I Wanna Be Like You” from the Disney movie the Jungle Book. It started around a camp fire one Thanksgiving. We were goofing around and I took a flute solo singing and playing with ingressive singing that sounded like a monkey. It was fun, and loved by all. That was four years ago, and now my challenge is to still play my “monkey” solo while keeping it fresh for me. Sometimes it works better then others. Through my doubts and negative self-talk I keep coming back to, “Ellen, just play what you hear (or feel) and keep practicing so that you have the chops to do it!”

I look forward to reading some comments about how other musicians, actors, dancers, stay true to their inner searching while developing a style at the same time.

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