• Mark Nanni

4. Eyes of the World

4. Eyes of the World

I look at our brains as amazing computers that are simultaneously running several programs. Just like a computer, each running program takes up “memory”, (like RAM on a computer), and slows the overall system down. Therefore, reducing the number of running programs allows the system to run as quickly, efficiently, and in the case of our brains as opposed to an actual computer, more accurately.

Why am I talking about our brains’ likeness to a computer? Because if you want to perform at your highest capability, our brain-computers need to be running at the highest speed, efficiency, accuracy and focus. This aspect of unlocking the highest focus, and more importantly for me, pure creativity, is why I originally became interested in meditation, and sparked my decades-long mediation practice which I maintain today.

The meditation, of course, led me into a more spiritual direction, which I highly believe also enhances my live performances, but I’ll write more on that in a separate blog.

Still, there are other ways to get the most out of our brain-computers. One of them, as I mentioned above, is reducing the number of running programs to exclusively the ones we need in order to perform.

When we are performing music, here are just a few of the “programs” that may be running: sense of rhythm, knowledge of music theory, memorization of lyrics, control and intonation of our singing voices, (how in tune our singing is against the accompanying instrument[s]), muscle memory, which we have built up little by little since we began playing our instrument(s), that we don’t even think about, but which our brain is executing, (just like breathing), and the pure creativity program. There can easily be more programs than this running as well, but it gives you an idea of how hard our brains are working, and how multi-faceted they really are.

What’s my point to all of this?

A lot of folks will tell you how important it is to open your eyes and look at the people you are performing for. To bring them into the performance in an intimate way. To make your audience feel more connected to you while you are performing for them. To erase a perceived, (or not consciously perceived), wall between artist and audience. There is certainly some truth to these sentiments.

Therefore, my opinion on the matter is likely somewhat controversial: I believe it’s best to perform with our eyes closed, when possible. Sure, you may have to look down at your instrument from time to time to find your place - the correct note or chord. (Yes, you of course need to be at a certain level of proficiency in your musicianship to play without looking, but that should be a definite goal.) You may need to look quickly at the lyrics for the first line of the coming verse. Etc.

But every time you open your eyes to look around the room, you’re booting up some pretty hefty “programs.” Namely, vision, which is an enormous sense, but also, all of the other integral programs which have to do with our brains interpreting what our eyes are seeing, and then, consequently, the way that those interpretations make us feel, (emotions).

Opening all of these programs, in addition to the programs we need to run just to perform, runs the risk of overtaxing our brain-computers, slowing them down, losing focus.

It really doesn’t take much to lose focus, and maintaining that focus is the most sure-fire way to turn in the best performance possible.

As you look around the room, perhaps you see someone watching you with what you perceive as a look of negative judgement of you and your performance. This may be real or imagined, but either way, if you’re processing this information, you’re taking away from your focus and you may well lose your way in your performance. You may simply forget where you are in the performance, or just lose some immeasurable quality of focus and play/sing/act more tentatively, with less conviction.

The same could be said for noticing someone in the audience you think is attractive, or a fellow musician/artist/actor you want to impress, noticing a couple getting into an argument, etc., etc.

Essentially, when you open your eyes, the ego aspect is more aware of itself, which always takes away from a performance, in my opinion. This is again where meditation comes in - the constant practice of concentration and turning off of the inner dialogue, which gives the brain-computer more of the resources it needs in order to perform at the highest level of which you are capable.

By all means, if you are comfortable enough in your preparation, if you are accomplished enough in your artistic discipline, if you can maintain complete focus while gazing into the eyes of your audience, do it. But always take note if doing so somehow pulls you away from your deepest focus and you sense a dropping off of your best performance. If so, try it my way and see if turning off some of your “programs”, and quieting down your inner ego dialogue doesn’t in fact allow you to give more of yourself, more of your spirit, to your performances.

(Reminder to the reader: as always, my words are simply my opinions based on personal experiences of spending most of my life performing live in front of an audience. If you think my opinion is poppycock, or as a performer yourself, find that my ways don’t work for you, always trust your own intuition. Again, this is not a teaching course, even if I’m making definite suggestions. The suggestions are merely coming from my own perceptions, and my intention is to share them with you. Thanks so much for reading and please share with anyone you think might be interested.)


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