Melissa Reiner


Watch her 2015 TEDx talk:

How To Listen Like A Musician

@ TEDxLondonBusinessSchool


Check out her solo album:

Great Love Constant Thought

Listen / Spotify / iTunes

The Adulation Vampires and other artistic conundrums

Alas, my attempts to blog once a week have been superseded by the pursuit of the pound, or in less crude terms, focusing on revenue-generating activities: jobs and auditioning for more jobs. In related news, I am now on the substitute list for one of London's top orchestras, which I will be happy to brag about in detail once I have worked for them in an official capacity, rather than only knowing that my name exists somewhere on a nebulous list of approved violinists. But it was encouraging to be elevated to The List after one of my best auditions ever, and after 2 weeks of manic preparation, even I was surprised that my nerves behaved under pressure in an audition situation.

After beginning my search for a literary agent (hope prognosis: still very much alive but sinking into a miasma of lassitude), I am bursting with parallels and contrasts between my two favorite/chosen art forms: music and literature, and the industries which peddle their performers and creators in today's world.

Both musicians and writers are obliged to spend large portions of their lives tucked away in voluntary solitary confinement, perfecting their craft before it is unleashed on the world. However, professional musicians emerge from their practicing cocoon in order to interact with their colleagues and listeners, whether in a rock band or an orchestra or even just on one's own, in order to perform for an adoring (slash critical) public. The preparation time for a performance varies from one rehearsal to countless hours of slogging away, but no matter what genre of music, any professional musician will eventually have a live audience, even if most of their work is in a recording studio.

For me, many of my most nerve-wracking concerts (or auditions) have been daunting because I feel that all of my life has led up to that very moment, when an audience will hear and judge my performance. Perhaps I feel the weight of history, looming over me in the form of a revered and dead composer who challenges me to do justice to his genius by executing every note with perfection. Perhaps I feel the expectations of a cultured and knowledgeable audience, who will criticize me for my lack of skill or style. And perhaps I feel the competition of an audition committee, daring me to play well enough for an invitation to join their orchestra. Regardless of the specifics of the situation and the state of one's nerves, the terrifying and exhilarating part of being a performing musician is done when one leaves the stage. It's called "Stage Fright" for a reason, not "Practice Room Fright" or "Rehearsal Fright". A musician's fears are mostly performance-related (or relevancy-related, but that is a subject matter for an entirely different blog).

Like adrenaline-junkies who turn to extreme sports, some musicians get that high (natural high, people, it's a natural high) from performing, and are happiest onstage. They are adulation vampires, sucking praise instead of blood. While not exactly an adulation vampire myself, it is highly gratifying to know that an audience has been touched by my performance, or to hear that a colleague enjoyed sitting next to me because I was prepared and was an invaluable member of an ensemble. And forget the roar of the crowd - if someone tells me they loved an album or soundtrack I was on, that is just as good as the immediacy of applause at the end of a performance.

For all these scenarios, the performance is the pinnacle of achievement, just like a race or a game in sports. Once the performance is over, the outcome is fixed: success or failure. Unlike in the recording studio, where we can keep playing a piece of music until it's perfect, or until there are enough perfect parts recorded to be spliced and diced into one "perfect" take.

Writing is like recording music, but unless a lucky writer has an editor who approves of the final product as being "finished", writers can drive themselves crazy attempting to achieve perfection in a bubble. After a lifetime of being a musician, living by the practice-to-perform-then-relax-and-celebrate model, I found that writing a novel was the easiest part of the craft. It's what comes afterwards that is perplexing me: trying to lure an agent/publisher/readers and receiving completely different feedback from different readers. Creating the arc of a story was made easier by my appreciation of the thousands of wonderful novels I have digested in my time, and it probably didn't hurt that I have logged thousands of additional hours performing and analyzing incredible music. It wasn't too hard for me to find the discipline to sit down and write; after all, if I hadn't learned early on how to discipline myself to sit down and practice the violin, I would not have been able to become a professional.

The difficult thing in writing, and perhaps my biggest hurdle as a musician taking on a new art form, is that once I completed an edit of my novel to my satisfaction, I realized that was the beginning of a new journey: to find an audience. There will be no moment of "Job done - performance over. Let's have a cocktail!" Or ice cream - I have a Pavlovian response to classical music and dessert. I thought that once the novel was finished, it would be all cocktails (or ice cream). But no. While there is no Stage Fright to encounter as a writer (unless you count readings, but that is only for successful writers and besides, a Junior Adulation Vampire like me doesn't think reading my work to an audience is nearly as scary as performing someone else's music), which is a good thing since Stage Fright was very debilitating to my music career at one point, there is also no moment where I can relax and walk away. Even when my novel is printed and officially finished, I have a feeling there will always be things I could have changed.

Rather than agonizing over my novel, which in its current state is the best writing I can do for now, I am working on new projects: practicing for more auditions, writing short stories and even starting the beginnings of a thriller in a tongue-in-cheek attempt to write something lucrative (genre fiction = highly popular). And I will blog more too. But after posting this, I feel a cocktail coming on...what time of day is it? Well ok, ice cream will have to suffice. I'll never get tired of solitary work leading to a reward.

Copyright © 2019 Melissa Reiner, All rights reserved. Portrait photos courtesy Tim SwiftDaniella Hovsepian. All other material copyright of their respective owners.