Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Live Performances: From Rock to Classical

There is nothing like a live performance, while making records and streaming music is usually the way that music gets to a large amount of people, there is something about it being played and heard in the moment that makes a deeper bond and greater connection with the audience.

Jack White has an interesting “rule” when it comes to playing live. Live performances usually follow a setlist, which is the order of songs to play during the show, however Jack White doesn’t follow this structure, and the reason behind it is that he believes that the crowd and the player sometimes feel a certain way and other times react differently, the way he does it is that depending on how the crowd reacts or feels, he will then react with a song.

I want the show to be alive,” he says. “And I want each show to be different so that the crowd is in control of what’s really happening onstage, whether they know it or not.

Jack White

He thinks that there is a connection that arises during shows on stage that makes musicians feel in sync even if they don’t know eachother very well.

Maybe one day, it’d be interesting to do a tour where none of the musicians are allowed to speak to each other. They only see each other onstage. That would be an interesting experiment.

Jack White

This makes the experience even more unique as the musician and the crowd interact in the same way a band reacts to improvisation.

Live Performance and Improvisation

Improvisation is also an important part of the live act, not just as a planned part of the show but also as a way of dealing with unforeseen events such as a string breaking or tumble on stage, or some sound malfunction. The idea of going prepared and with specific orders in mind can only take you so far, there is a whole other reality when everything is happening.

Of course depending on the music genre, there is a different approach to these situations, for example, Rock is a lot more malleable and free in terms of improvisation and “going with the flow” but on the other hand, a string quartet has to follow a strict pattern in which every sound and every movement needs to line up. The way a Rock band deals with a broken string could be with humor, rage and even keep playing without any concerns whatsoever, but in a string quartet, if a string were to break (which is highly unlikely) the piece could not go on. That is not to say that one live experience is better than the other, it’s just a different thing

It is important to remember that classical music once welcomed improvisation into their performances, mostly piano composers, but why isn’t it a common thing now?

The great piano composers were all fluent improvisers. Bach, Mozart, Chopin and so many others are reported to have improvised to audiences regularly. Beethoven’s improvisation duel against Daniel Steibelt, which he won to become the most lauded improviser in Vienna, proves this point whilst it also demonstrates how many virtuoso pianists of the time were skilled improvisers. So when did improvisation cease to be part of the job description for classical pianists, and why?

Phil Best

The reason is not really a strong one, in reality what happened was a combination between the separation of composer/performer and the idea from the 20th century of bringing all the music to the most faithful interpratation possible.

While there are still some pianists such as Robert Levin and Gabriela Montero, it’s not a very regular thing to happen today.

There is much to talk about when it comes to live performances, but it’s good to remember that some of the things that happen in those situations cannot be reproduced or copied, every show, every event is a one in a lifetime thing.

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