Emotional Expression

Posted: 9/5/2007 10:28:45 AM
Thomas Grillo

From: Jackson Mississippi

Joined: 8/13/2006

Another very bad habit of mine is self evident in most of my youtube videos. A viewer recently told me, that I looked as if I was not enjoying my own performance. There was no facial expression. This is particularly difficult for me because I'm legally blind, and hardly ever get to see other people's emotional expressions, so I generally fail to express what I feel in music in a way that the audience can relate to.

The other side of the problem, is that with the theremin, I'm so engaged in concentrating on posture, balance, intonation, and other factors, I all too often fail to show much emotion at all. Sometimes when I try to, it's like it's the one straw that breaks the camel's back, and intonation goes out the window.

To quote thereminist / mime artist Eliot Fintishel, "Most theremin players have a far-away look on their face that's less than zero, theatrically speaking"

In my case, this is so true. I'm working on it, but I just thaught I'd toss this one out to y'all, and see if you experience this problem as well, and or have solutions for enhancing facial expressions in theremin musical performances.
Posted: 9/5/2007 11:14:21 AM

From: Bristol, United Kingdom

Joined: 12/30/2006

I don't think you can do much about the expression but you could perform naked. I think the seemingly bored expression might then translate into "flirtatious".
Posted: 9/5/2007 11:35:51 AM

From: Redmond, WA

Joined: 9/1/2007

From what I understand, Clara Rockmore had a very distant, emotionless expression that captivated audiences who were dazzled by how her emotions translated through her music instead of her face. I think, if done right, a blank face can emphasize the amout of emotion in one's playing. I say let your emotion be felt through sound, and focus on expression this way.

However, if done wrong, it could potentially detract attention away from your playing...but your audio recordings would still sound great, which is really the important thing for a lot of musicians.
Posted: 9/5/2007 1:31:37 PM
Thomas Grillo

From: Jackson Mississippi

Joined: 8/13/2006

True. I remember seeing only one short bit of emotion on Rockmore's face when she lifted an eyebrow in one piece. She just seemed to close here eyes, tip her head back, and off she went to another world, taking us right along with her.

Now I don't feel so bad about not showing much facial expression.
Posted: 9/5/2007 9:35:59 PM
Jeff S

From: N.E. Ohio

Joined: 2/14/2005

You've already answered your own question. People who ask such questions and make such statements clearly don't have a clue.
If one wants to entertain through their "performance", the theremin is not the instrument to choose if your goal is to make good music. Yes, I understand there are those who choose to try anyway.
So, what are your alternatives? You can make all the faces you want while playing free-form/FX/noise. Or, you can do what the "pros" do and just fake it while hand-synching to canned music. It's not something I'd like to watch.
If the guy wants to see people making faces, tell him to buy a ticket the next time the circus is in town. ;-)
Posted: 9/5/2007 11:16:14 PM

From: Kansas City, Mo.

Joined: 8/23/2005

I believe there are two points to facial expression:

1) you want to avoid holding any stress in your face -- that is, you don't want to grimace or clench your teeth and such.

2) you want to avoid an expression that is hard to look at for viewers. Generally with practice this can be done.

I think Thomas may be pushing his lips together -- literally holding a "stiff upper lip" -- out of shear determination. However, to hold a stiff upper lip turns one's lips into a frown. Rather than seeing determination, the viewers may see anger! So Thomas, experiment... try holding your lips slightly apart -- not enough that it is visible, but enough that there is no stress.

Also, turn your instrument and yourself at a least a slight angle to the audience or camera. Straight on camera angles are generally not as pleasing as an angle. Move your lighting a little higher and off-center. Straight-on lighting isn't particularly flattering.

Personally, I don't have a problem with the idea of looking at the top of my instrument or at some kind of reference point. Harder to balance when one is just staring off into space!

I recall watching Pamelia Kurstin play -- she is definately "into" her music and her facial expression communicates that. She smiled and talked with the audience between numbers but when she played she automatically assumed her "playing posture" -- she doesn't stare off into space however she appears as someone very focused on the music -- a little bit in her own world.

Hope this post doesn't make you cringe :)

[i]-- Kevin[/i]
Posted: 9/5/2007 11:46:08 PM
Thomas Grillo

From: Jackson Mississippi

Joined: 8/13/2006

Kevin, Thank you. That's the sort of input I was looking for, and no, it does not make me cringe. I welcome it. Your statement about the stiff upper lip reflects the statement made by the viewer about me looking as if I wern't enjoying myself. I now understand what they meant. Now, I know what to look for, and what to do about it.
Posted: 9/6/2007 7:31:00 AM

From: Wirral UK

Joined: 7/31/2007

Just a thought, it takes more muscles to frown than to smile!!. Anyway the listener should have been transported to another planet rather than making stupid comments....
Posted: 9/6/2007 5:52:42 PM

From: Leicester, UK

Joined: 9/23/2005

there was some chat at Hands Off Symposium about performers having a "theremin face".

I have the opposite problem to you, Thomas. I have been told on several occasions that my mobile part-concentration part-ecstatic facial expressions are the main (and, to some, the only) entertaining factor in my theremin performances.

When things get lively and atonal I can get quite carried away I'll confess so heaven knows what I look like then.

I was raised on Carlos Santana as a kid and I guess my gurning while playing isn;t far from his.
Now if I could play theremin like he plays guitar...
Posted: 9/6/2007 6:15:00 PM

From: Kingston, NY

Joined: 2/13/2005

true, true, but I've never seen a violin or trumpet soloist with a happy doll face.
It's interesting to me to hear such worries about it. I hope I don't scare anyone (my teacher totally scared me when he performed), but for me the music's the point and if an audience member really needs to watch my face I'd hope they'd focus on the center of my forehead to see what I'm hearing. My awareness is focused on the music and spread around the room with the entire sonic experience so I let my gaze fall where it is least distracted. Usually about three feet in front of me, but that could just be a habit from meditation training. We are usually in a deep state of listening just in order to play. Most times though folks say they are watching the hands.

Very Interesting...
There's not much film of her, but from what I've seen Clara Rockmore didn't exactly have an expressively sad or ear to ear grinning face while playing.
What do concert artists like Lydia, Carolina, or Barbara do with their faces while in the depths of performance?
Maybe lower front and more back lighting would help?

You must be logged in to post a reply. Please log in or register for a new account.