I’ve been subbing for organist John Renke for Wednesday Evensong services which are held at 5:30 pm every week, and after last night’s service I must have looked like a drowned rat, because it is so incredibly hot in St. Andrew’s Cathedral at that time of day.
Those of you who have experienced summer in Hawaii this year probably agree with me that this seems to be the hottest and most humid summer ever — I don’t ever remember such a prolonged time when the heat and humidity was this brutal. It may have to do with the fact that we’ve had a bunch of hurricanes come our way.
Here’s a satellite image from Saturday showing Hurricanes Kilo (Category 3 with 125 mph winds), Ignacio (Category 4, 140 mph) and Jimena (Category 4, 140 mph). Forecasters say it’s the first time they can recall having three major hurricanes simultaneously in the Central and East Pacific. One of the TV newscasters said the image reminded him of Van Gogh’s painting, “Starry Nights!”
You can “Google” anything! so I did a Google search on “sweating musicians” and found there was even a question asked on Yahoo Answers: Why do musicians sweat so much? The best answer was shown: “because it takes an enormous amount of energy to perform. it’s not because of the stage lights, that is a common myth, and if you were a musician, you’d know what I’m talking about. I also use it to lose a couple of pounds because it works for me. when I do concerts, and I perform, it is exhausting. being a musician isn’t easy. you have to give it your all, every time.
Wow! No need to buy a gym membership to go to a sauna — just perform music!
Years ago, I attended a summer workshop by the late Robert Shaw on Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, in Princeton, NJ where the summers are also hot and humid. Something that was hard to ignore was that he perspired heavily. He always wore a blue shirt with a white towel around his neck, and as the morning rehearsal transpired, the sweat lines around his collar and underarms got bigger and bigger until finally his entire shirt was drenched. At lunch he must have changed his shirt, so we could see the same sweat marks reappear and get bigger and bigger during the afternoon rehearsal.
Allan Kozinn in the New York Times wrote an article on Robert Shaw’s rehearsal techniques, called Robert Shaw Magic: It’s Based on Sweat. “But it would be wrong to accord inspiration too great a role here. From Tuesday to Saturday, Mr. Shaw led his singers — 145 of them, with 75 auditors — through rehearsals that lasted 6 to 10 hours a day. And it was clear to a visitor at one of the sessions that there is a lot of patience and sweat in the process, too.”
Other people experience performance anxiety, and have to deal with shaky knees, racing heartbeat, and sweaty palms. I remember it was about twenty years ago that I was playing in the Midsummer Night’s Organ Concert at Central Union Church with other organist colleagues, and the jitters hit me. I somehow had to prevail though I felt sick to my stomach, and my fingers were slipsliding all over the keyboard!
One of the more interesting “hits” on the Google search for “why do musicians sweat on stage” was an excerpt from Rodney Clapp’s book, Tortured Wonders: Christian Spirituality for People, Not Angels in which he discusses “low culture” vs. “high culture” as defined by Matthew Arnold.
“Symphonic musicians dress in tuxedoes, and their audience does not typically wear jeans or other everyday clothing. Listeners participate in the performance only on a highly intellectual, unemotional plane—they do not respond to the music with their entire bodies (as in dancing, for example) but by polite applause at the end of each composition. This is high culture, meant to elevate its listeners spiritually, to take them out of the everyday into the transcendent. We do not pay to see classical musicians sweat.”
Hah! You try playing the organ in a building without air-conditioning!