Unsightly Sheet Music

There’s something unsightly about sheet music being used during performances.

I remember attending a vocal recital where three well-established singers performed popular opera arias, duets and trios.  All of the music was memorized up until the second set when the tenor brought out a music stand and sang the rest of the concert from a score.  I was disappointed.

You may say: “Close your eyes; it’s about the music, not the visuals!”

Not true!  It’s about the performance; it’s about the connection.  It’s disappointing knowing that a performer needs sheet music for the same reason it’s disappointing to find out that your favourite singer lip-syncs.  It disrupts the presumption that music is naturally emanating from the performer.

You may also argue that you can still have effective performances with sheet music. This is true; orchestra musicians use sheet music all the time.

But imagine if they didn’t!  Imagine if they were so well rehearsed, and knew the music so thoroughly they were always looking up at the conductor.  Or even better, they didn’t need a conductor!

Unrealistic, I know.  But I also know what would make a more effective performance.

Now, I’m the first to admit that I occasionally use sheet music, especially if the music is very difficult, or if there were minimal rehearsals, or if I’m sight-reading.  But ideally, you would never see me reading sheet music.  When I perform solo, I never read music.

There are two reasons for this.  First, memory is the key to more knowledge, improved skill and thus, better performances.

Second, using sheet music implies the performer is not wholly connected with the actual music.  I know this because if you took away the sheet music, there would be no music!  That’s not healthy for the performer, or the audience.  As I said, it disrupts the presumption that the music is naturally occurring and naturally emanating from the performer.  In a sense, using sheet music because we don’t know the notes is like using a handbook because we don’t know how to live and breath!   Our notion of beauty is intimately connected with this.

To sum up: Sheet music is unnatural; the best bands and the best musicians know this.

You may also say: “Some music is too difficult and complex to memorize.  The best string quartets need music, otherwise all this great music would never be heard!”

This is true, though it’s not a good excuse; they don’t know what they’re missing!

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