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Interesting Essay on "playing in anger"


Formerly known as "nachoman"
I'm reposting this from a harmonica forum that I frequent, in that, well- it's a particualrly interesting and thought provoking post/essay (by harp player Wolf Kristiansen)....

In the course of playing harmonica for over 30 years, I've occasionally stepped onto the stage seething with anger over something that was said or done to me that day or that very moment. I would seethe over some perceived unfairness in how I had been treated. As I think back, I realize it was always because of an argument with a female, be she girlfriend or wife.

Instead of distracting me, the emotion caused me to play better than I usually do. I know, because bandmates and audiences would tell me how well I played on those occasions, without knowing what I had been feeling.

It was such an obvious and reliable phenomenon, I did my best to analyze what was going on. Everybody wants to elevate their playing, after all. Here's what I came up with, years ago:

1. Any emotion, be it anger, love, joy or sadness will translate into better music, if your music (in my case, the blues) depends on emotion for its power.

2. Anger creates adrenalin, the same adrenalin that readied our prehistoric ancestors to fight or flee as they faced the sabre-toothed tiger. Your senses are heightened during those times; this is good for you as a performer.

3. Your playing, at times like these, is true to your real self.

For me, it's the third point that is far and away the biggest factor in how my playing changes for the better.

Terrible unresolved arguments with girlfriends always made me feel totally alone in the world. I didn't care who I pleased or displeased at that point.

During those angry moments, I played to satisfy MY needs, not the needs of my bandmates; nor the needs of the audience. I focussed on my need to "work it out", there and then. I didn't care who was watching or listening, or whether I pleased them or not. I lost my stage fright, indeed, any kind of self-consciousness.

Ironically, in selfishly pleasing myself, I would end up pleasing my bandmates and the audience. I would stand on the lip of the stage, with my eyes closed, baring my soul. My bandmates were happy to have a true center for the audience's focus, and would fall in line to support whatever magical thing was happening. The music that emerged was better, tighter and more powerful than anybody expected.

What it taught me, more than anything else, is that you should always try to be true to yourself as a musician; as an artist. This is the rule for me, although I appreciate for others their first focus is to entertain the audience. I say, if you please yourself, you will please the audience.


Well-Known Member
I guess this is why many great artistes have turbulent private lives - sub-consciously they need to feed off their inner turmoil in order to perform. Personally, conflicts and rows just send me out to gigs feeling p*ssed off. It did happen to me once though - I did a gig the same night that it became apparent that my first marriage was doomed - I was dazed, confused, monosyllabic and withdrawn, but played a few solos where the rest of the band, a right cynical bunch of old gits, were looking at me open-mouthed. Happily there is very little likelihood of me ever re-creating the circumstances........


Senior Member
Hey Jules, I very much like and agree with the sentiment 100%. To thyself be true!

You play the blues, well that's my passion also. I really enjoy the "blackmans " music as some misguided people call it, these days it's universal.
Unfortunately, none of the bands I play in over hear, want to play it.
When I come back to blighty next year, I'd love to hear you play.


Nick Wyver

I don't really do anger. But I could probably have a stab at the differences between playing drunk and playing sober.
I say, if you please yourself, you will please the audience.
Yes to that, though.


Senior Member
Yes Nick, I did say the other day that I would head for the bar.
I did the other week. We came back to Spain three weeks early, so that I could play a gig with an english band (I play with them once a month, mainly because the bass player owns the bar where they play, and a lot of my friends come down to have a laugh).

The gig was at another bar and it was all about four of my friends cellebrating their birthdays (have you fallen asleep yet?) and wanting me to play as usual. I turn up with my gear, only to be told "I don't know where your going to stand, or plug in, but you can do a couple of numbers with us". I have to say I got very angry, I also got drunk (so you can see that I qualify twice over for a good session!!). zzzzzzzzz
Oh sorry, needless to say that's the last time they'll see me or my friends!!
The Spanish bands are far more proficient, they just don't tell you when a gig is cancelled.
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