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Performing disasters


Charlie Chaplin & Buster Keaton duet

Performing disasters

I’ve been thinking recently about performing from the perspective of performing disasters. What a musician considers to be a performing disasters is very personal, and invariably different according to the performer involved. For one musician getting a fingering wrong would be a catastrophe, but for another it would be a string breaking in the middle of playing, dropping music or having a memory slip. And yet, unexpectedly perhaps, these so-called disasters have the ability to bring a new level of humanity into the performance. The performer has faced their fear of messing up and has survived. If they manage to rise above their distress, and smile or chat through the slip-ups while keeping a high standard of playing throughout, they relax into their performance. The audience, from their side, then feels that the performer is just the same as them, not someone on a pedestal, infinitely more important and gifted. I have felt the tension break in these moments, giving the performer an opportunity to be more expressive and the audience a chance to be more open and receptive.


This wonderful video clip of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton is their own personal version of performing disasters. While it is delightfully extreme, some of their performing mishaps, not all fortunately, will be familiar to a lot of musicians. I can certainly vouch for the distress of sheet music sliding off the music stand, and Beethoven’s page turner, when Beethoven premiered one of his piano concertos, not only had to turn his pages but had to fish out broken strings from the piano as well. I wonder whether he had the panache of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton  while confronting the same issue!

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