Sunday, November 17, 2013

Slipping Into the Zone

If this happened to my hair during my recital, no one told me about it.

In my most recent post, I referenced having slipped into the zone while fulfilling my senior recital. The zone is an elusive and illusive concept that virtually defies description. Nevertheless, I said I would take a stab at describing my experience, and so I shall.

The zone is more correctly a state of mind as opposed to a physical place. Still, real or imaginary, it's where every degree candidate could only be so lucky to find himself or herself during a recital except that it rarely works out that way. A musician practices the works he or she will perform, sometimes for years, yet usually must battle nerves, self-doubt, and many other elements within himself or herself to emerge from the ordeal of a senior recital. Once in a great while all the hard work results in a relatively short state of grace from those elements. It's pure magic; I'm not sure I know how else to describe it.

Being in the zone is not an out-of-body experience or anything so otherworldly as that. It's not quite like being in a trance, though a musician is in his or her own little world in which nothing but the music makes any difference. Everything from that moment on when one arrives in the mystical state is akin to being on autopilot. It doesn't matter where a person is or who else is there. (In my case there were more than six hundred people present.) Wardrobe or the possibility of a malfunction ceases to be a concern. Hair, nails, and makeup don't matter anymore. It's all about the artist and the music, but really just the music; the artist is little more than a conduit through which the music is delivered. I wish I could produce a road map or precise directions for how to find the zone , but in the end, other than through the almost countless hours of practice starting when I was three years old, I have no clue as to how I reached that enigmatic existence. Years of hard work and just a little blind luck led me there on the one night of my life when it actually mattered.

Bach was suppposedly in the zone when he composed The Magnificat. Handel was reportedly in the zone when he composed The Messiah. (It's a funny not-entirely-coincidence that artists most frequently are reported to have been in the zone when composing or performing religious works. I'm inclined to chalk it up to religious fervor combined with the ever-pervasive urban legend mentality.) Mozart may have been in the zone just about anytime he picked up a pen or went near a keyboard. Pianist Vladimer Horowitz was alleged to have been there on a fairly regular basis when he performed. Then again, maybe he just had Asperger's. Performing rock musicians allude to being in the zone fairly routinely, though pharmaceutical facilitation may very well play a role in such cases.

It sounds ludicrously self-aggrandizing for me to compare my experience with those of the artists whose feats I've mentioned, and I'm not suggesting that my very small success in any way compares with anything they or any other of the masters accomplished. I'm merely sharing that I have experienced a situation in which I was able to perform slightly beyond my normal maximum capacity with the greatest of ease, and that beyond what can be explained by the ordinary over-preparation for a major event, I have no great explanation.


  1. I've had that happen at a horse show, but never during a musical performance. Sounds like you really did well.

  2. I'm not sure it's all that attainable or even desirable a state for a vocalist, as a singer needs to maintain some degree of contact with an audience. For an athlete, however, certainly it's a good thing.