This post continues the series entitled “Reflexiones Sobre…” (“Reflections On…”). These posts are published occasionally to explore a single theme or idea. Rather than move through an individual interview sequentially, the reader gains a deeper understanding of the breadth of opinions and perspectives on a specific topic.
This post reflects on the artists’ relationship with their audiences and their motivations for performance.
When you’re performing on stage, do you play for yourself, your fellow musicians, the public, or something completely different?
JOSÉ DE LA TOMASA, SINGER
That’s a really interesting question. One never sings for himself, nor for the public. He who sings for the public is lost, because his head is not where it should be. I always try to revive my ancestors in my cante (singing). I search for them. I remember them. I see their faces. This transports me to another place and I can be more authentic and sing with more soul. I’ve sung many times while thinking of my youngest son. This gives me an internal strength. If you sing with real emotion, if you search for something deeper, it’s the public that will be the first to feel those emotions. But, to say I’m going to sing for the public, that I’m going to fight for the public… What if the audience isn’t good and they don’t understand? How am I going to sing for them? When the audience is bad, what we do is this: I sing for the guitarist and he plays for me. We play for each other without looking at each other. We say, “let’s go, I’ll sing to you and you’ll play to me. They’ll be listening, and we’ll give the max.”
PEDRO BARRAGÁN, GUITARIST
Oh yeah, that’s a really good question. I’d say to you that the most demanding audience is one’s own self. Which is to say that while you’re playing there’s a part of you that’s also listening to yourself and that part is more demanding than anyone out in the audience. Additionally, it’s also true that the guitar has a virtue that sometimes is problematic. You can be playing the guitar up there and at the same time be thinking of something else. That is something that doesn’t occur with singing. It’s like talking, right? When you’re speaking you can only think about what you’re speaking about. But with the guitar things can get automatic like they can when driving a car. There’s a part of the brain that just takes charge and you can play and be thinking of something entirely different. And up on stage this can be a problem because you start thinking about things; the mind plays games with you. You start thinking about who’s out in the audience and if they’re liking the performance or not. You start thinking about why a certain person came or you know that someone out there [in the audience] is another flamenco artist because they’ve got the look and maybe they know what’s going on here! The most demanding person is oneself because inside there’s all that imagination and all the different personas. This is somewhat psychoanalytical, but yeah, in reality there’s a lot of psychology in all this, for sure.
Surely the response could be different [at different times in one’s career]. I would have given you a totally different response ten years ago and surely I’d give you a distinct answer ten years from now. But it’s true, the stage really is a powerful thing. You step up on stage for a certain number of people, it could be 50 or it could be 400, who are dedicating an hour of their own time to listen to you. This is really putting yourself out there. It’s really powerful, right! And so what goes through your head in that moment? Well, an entire life can pass through your head. Clearly my ideal would be to think simply about the music. Which means to not think of me, me, me, and how they’re all valuing me and how I’m valuing myself. I’m playing music, which means I’m part of something beautiful and I get to participate in that just as the public does. For me, that would be the ideal but to get to that point, I don’t know, I’ve got a ways to go.
BELÉN MAYA, DANCER
I dance for myself. That’s something I’ve needed from the beginning and it’s never changed. Dancing has always been a way to heal my wounds, my problems, and to understand myself better. There was always this very private ritual and I didn’t relate to anybody, not to the audience, not to the musicians. Little by little I started to open [up] to the audience and share… I started [letting] the audience into my game. But it’s always been my game. I started playing with them, allowing them to enter, and sharing. Until then, it was me, by myself. Sometimes I couldn’t get through to the audience. I think that was not good for me. It was too closed.
ALEJANDRO GRANADOS, DANCER
A bit for all of them, but normally I try to dance for my ancestors. I speak with them first and give them thanks for being able to dance, then I try to dance well for myself, then my fellow artists, and then the public. I’m much more relaxed now and don’t feel a need to prove anything. I just do what I do and that’s it. This change has been good because when I finish dancing I feel better than before I started. Before, when I finished dancing my body hurt a lot because my emotions and tension were uncontrollable. Now I can control them rather well.
PASTORA GALVÁN, DANCER
For the public. There have been moments when I haven’t wanted to keep grinding away or haven’t felt like putting a flower in my hair. You don’t have the same energy day-in and day-out. You’re also away from home and now that I have a daughter, I miss her. So, I think to myself, “Well, I’m here. I have to go out there because all those people are waiting.” Once I go on stage, start dancing, and hear that applause, it picks me up.
MIGUEL ÁNGEL CORTÉS, GUITARIST/COMPOSER
Paco [De Lucía] once said it wouldn’t make sense at all to play something if you didn’t first like it yourself. It wouldn’t be worth it. If you just play for others it comes off as being artificial and empty. You have to like it first. It’s true that there are other factors to think about though. There might be a certain music you play or a lick that you like a lot, but it doesn’t work, and you don’t know why. This happens most often in pieces for solo guitar. It’s possible that the musician just got it wrong somehow. Maybe what’s happening is that the audience is waiting for you to play something really melodious, something with a really pronounced melody. You might think it’s the dumbest thing in the world, but then people go nuts. The most basic stuff can get people to applaud. Often, guitarists will play the easiest and worst music because they’re just looking for success, and it’s really easy to see when this happens. All guitarists have something easy up their sleeve that they sell by putting that little extra expression on their face that they know will get the audience to stand and applaud. We all know when to do it. I’ll be playing, maybe por Tangos, and I’ll pull out the most typical falseta from Granada that I know and all I have to do is play two remates in a row instead of one and it’s a standing ovation.
ESPERANZA FERNÁNDEZ, SINGER
I sing for myself first because it’s my way of life and because I believe in what I do. If I didn’t believe in it, that would be really hypocritical. If I didn’t believe in what I was doing, then the public wouldn’t be able to receive it. Well, they’d be able to receive it according to the state of mind I was in. If a person or artist believes in what they’re doing, the public will get it. Each audience will see something distinct, of course, because each is different. Basically, you must believe in yourself and what you’re doing in order to present it later.
MANOLO SANLÚCAR, GUITARIST/COMPOSER
The first thing I think about when I get on stage is controlling my fear. That’s the most important thing. After getting control of my fear, which I usually do, fortunately, I try to remember what I felt when I composed the piece I’m playing. It’s often difficult because many of the pieces were composed a long time ago. I have to familiarize myself with them again.
One of the difficulties for a guitarist-composer is that he is the instrumentalist and he is also the one who presents the work. A professional who learns a piece or plays from a score is interpreting the work of another. Someone who interprets the work of another tries to be faithful to the piece and does the best he can. He’s preoccupied with the fingerings and the proper expression, of being faithful to the specific criteria of that piece. The composer who plays his own work, however, is playing music composed over a long period of time. That person has evolved in that time. That doesn’t mean he’s evolved for the better either. Maybe he’s grown, maybe he’s worse now, or maybe he’s changed his mind about something. When the moment comes to interpret his older work, he’s not the same human being that composed the piece. He’s someone else now, but has to play it and still has to be truthful. What is he to do? He has to convert himself into an actor and try to revive who he was in the moment he composed the piece. [This only works] if he was a true artist in the moment and composed the piece with his soul, not just with his knowledge. You can be a famous professional without being an artist. An artist is one who has knowledge, but that also works truthfully, with all their honesty and all their heart.
I often sit down and write when I have an idea for a composition. I write in words about what I’m imagining and try to create an image of it. If I’m trying to reflect the life of someone, of the circumstances of a miner, for example, I construct a small story for that person. It’s not that I want to put music to that story, no. It’s that I want to have that image, those vibrations and that sensibility, in my head and permanently connected to the piece I’ve created. When it comes time to put that on stage, I can then search for who I was in that moment. Precisely because of that, I have a common fight with the [production] companies [regarding programs]. I usually try not to have programs for my concerts, I introduce what I play in the moment. I understand that people want to know, but the best I can offer is to actually play for those who haven’t listened to my music. It’s not like Beethoven’s 9th symphony, where someone can say, “well, I’ve already heard Beethoven’s 9th and I’m not going to listen to it again.” In this case you speak of Manolo Sanlúcar and you can listen directly to Manolo Sanlúcar. You choose to listen or not to listen to him. That’s it, so I just go play.
I believe in what I’m going to play at each moment. Because of this, I’m being sincere with myself. I’m creating my own environment and ambiance, and the public is the one who gets to benefit from it, of course. Sometimes, when I feel obligated to create a program, I’ll look at what the program says and tell the audience that I’m not going to play what’s written. I tell them I’ll do it later, but that right now I’m going to play something else. Artists are often obligated to do certain things and all this about, “well, the public is always right and always has a point,” I don’t believe in that. The public has a point when it has a point, and when it doesn’t, it doesn’t. That’s just how it is. When I’ve had bad days, this is what I’ve done. I’ve been at this for many years and this doesn’t happen often, but sometimes it does. During the concert I ask the audience to forgive me, “I’m sorry that today I couldn’t be better. I haven’t found my better self and I’m sorry.”
EDUARDO REBOLLAR, GUITARIST
Given that what I’ve done most is play for singing, I play for the singer. I play to please the singer and to help the singer get comfortable. If the singer is successful, the guitarist will be successful as well. If the singer isn’t successful and the guitarist is, then something’s wrong.
CARMEN KOBAYASHI, STUDENT
For the public, but especially for everybody that’s been helping me and supporting me and believing in me. And my family in Sevilla; I want to be able to sing to them. If I ever get on a big stage, I would think about my dad and my mom. They’d be the first people I’d have in my mind and I would sing to them.
TINO VAN DER SMAN, GUITARIST
I have to be honest with this. There’s a part of me that still seeks recognition. It’s the part that makes me suffer the most and makes me most nervous. Earlier you asked me about some of the goals I have. That’s one of them, to play for myself without needing to please anyone and without having expectations. I hope I get there one day because this is one of the worst things for me. I’m not strong enough yet.
SERGIO DE LOPE, INSTRUMENTALIST
My attitude regarding this is twofold. [First], I want the public to have a good time. When I compose and put together the show, they guide me, or us. As a musician and leader of my project, I’m a pretty open person and like listening to those around me. I want them to always be participating, because I know it will be better for everyone. It’s not just about me [as the bandleader], no. We start with an initial idea for the show, then it builds [slowly], and then it gets its final form as a result of the relationship that’s built over time with [various] audiences. We have found a strong format now. We’ve realized it’s connecting with people and they’re loving it. I also think about my group, being there with my musicians.
PEDRO SIERRA, GUITARIST/COMPOSER
I play for the public. When you play, you must understand that you’re there to please people. They need to have fun and enjoy the music. Your responsibility is to give the best you have. When people use the expression you just mentioned, that, “I just play for myself,” that’s a bit egotistical. If you’re just going to play for yourself, you should stay put and just play at home. When you face the public, you have to show up with your best. You have to be prepared, the guitar has to have a good, clean sound. I’ve always felt this way. The public pays for the tickets, flamenco exists because of them. You have to put in the effort and please the people you play for.
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