In a story, everything and every person has a reason for being where they are at the time they are. It could be as simple as a character serving our hero cheesecake to finish off a small enjoyable lunch with the love interest. It could be as complex as a secret message scrawled in raspberry syrup that the love interest has summoned ninjas to take out hero out! The point is that the server and the cheesecake both have a purpose.

One aspect about playing music is that you should always take up an appropriate amount of space at the correct time. Play/sing boldly, but within the right dynamic range and space. You are there for a reason! There is no need to play timidly or – worse – “nicely.”

“Nice” playing is barely there, ineffectual, dispassionate, and completely deferential, be it to the soloist or everyone else. “Nice” playing is little more than a MIDI track that goes through the motions, disconnected from everything happening around it. I am not suggesting you play fortissimo in a section that does not call for it, but play with personality and intention! Play with authority.

A saxophonist friend has asked me to play piano for his recital. Yes, he is the “featured soloist” everyone is coming to see, but I’m not there just to play notes beneath him. Sometimes the piano part creates a steady eighth-note palette to help set his saxophone apart. Other times, my right hand is answering melodic ideas he introduces in a previous measure. There are places where he takes a back seat and my part comes forward. We work together to make sure the music gets served.

If he wanted someone to just play notes beneath him, it would have been far easier for him to play along to a recording or track. (Don’t do that, kids. No one respects that. Too many churches do that.) Instead, he asked me to play live and take up space with him. We are in it together! That’s a true complement.

Each moment calls for a certain amount of space. Take it up! No apologetic playing allowed. You are a collaborator, not a decoration!

All the best,

TKP – 3/30/23

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