Performing Behind “The Iron Curtain”

 

The Iron Curtain

 

OK, so this is going to be a full-on rant.  If you know me and you think this is about you, it’s probably not–well maybe.    The Iron Curtain is alive and well and foreboding at every sorta/kinda live show put on by sorta/kinda musicians who can’t seem to bother to learn their music, and need to have a music stand to hold forests of song books, sheet music, chord charts or whatever they think they need to get through a performance.  Well, that was a long sentence!  Anytime I go to a show and am forced to watch musicians read their songs off a page, I feel a little put upon.  What was that song Billy Joe Shaver wrote, “Slim Chance and the Cain’t Hardly Playboys”?  This blog is for you.

If a musician wants to play in front of an audience, I believe that they should buy the T-shirt, bite the bullet, learn the material.  I know it’s safer to read from a page, but for cripes sake, what sort of message does it send to the folks who have to endure being walled off from the performance by a music stand.  Then there is the fact that with stand after stand like a Roman phalanx across the stage, no one can see the musicians do their musician things.

Sometimes while seated on a hard cafe/bar chair/stool, watching a band play and sing across a sea of music stands, I feel daunted.  I also feel cheated.  I mean, why am I here watching music stands, when I could be watching fly fishing videos in the comfort of my home?

I don’t object to a music stand being used way off to the side as a holder for play lists, harmonicas, capos, and merch paraphanelia, but for a musician to put them right between themselves and their audience so they can read the words and/or chord charts, shows disrespect.  I expect the performers I go and see to know their material and to not hide from me.

I also do not object to reading songs off a page at an open mic when the artist is trying out new material to check out audience response.  Doing this makes some sense in that the song is raw and untried and performing it like this helps the songwriter to discover where it’s flaws might be.

What a rant!  Well it all started out when I was leafing through an issue of the Musician’s Friend catalog, and saw a teleprompter for songs–aaaaack!  And there I went.

Let me say that I play Rockabilly/Americana/Rock ‘N’ Roll and there is no way I can get any kind of audience response if I am reading my words and chords off a sheet of paper.  If I am reading I cannot move around because I lose my place on the page.  I cannot jump or act excited because I am frozen to my place in front of the music stand.  I ask, how can an audience get worked up over a pair of eyes fixed on some words on a page rather than on said audience?

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2 thoughts on “Performing Behind “The Iron Curtain”

  1. oh, you challenge us right down to the bone.

    and this is what makes “live music” live, no? of course not all performers are so comfortable in their bodies, in their work, in the performance as you have become. I do notice my response to a piece which is known/memorized/experienced by the singer/writer. in some way, I am able to receive it in its fullness. not to say that being “read to” is in anyway a “less than” experience. just different.

    Emmy Lou Harris reads her words sometimes. So does Lucinda. John Prine has them pasted all over the place, though he also has lists of titles, which seem to be enough to get him going.

    oh. rants are supposed to have run-on sentences.
    😉

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