I am writing this from 10,000 feet up, on my way to Rochester, New York for my fourth performance with “A Night Of Symphonic Rock,” a show where classic rock-n-roll songs are enhanced by a sixty-piece orchestra. We have played everything from “Dream On” by Aerosmith to “Hotel California” by the Eagles. On this trip, the producers added “Freebird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Of course, I've brought along necessary items such as my guitar (stowed above as a carry on), pedal board, and brief case. In my checked luggage, I also have a number of other important items for performances like this: three neckties (skinny, standard, outrageous), one black blazer, a collared white dress shirt, fitted dress slacks, dress socks, dress shoes, and various rock-n-roll accessories (bracelets, necklaces, sunglasses, cufflinks). The end result is something very similar to “Trans-Siberian Orchestra,” a classy concert hall-approved rocker.
When I was a teenager in Baltimore, long before moving to Los Angeles, I used to go to the mall with my mother and get sucked into Hot Topic. This was the only store in town that had “stage clothing.” These were clothes too loud for my every day life, but absolutely perfect for performances. Over the years I bought some embarrassing items from fishnet shirts to capes, but my favorite outfit by far was a vampire-like, velvet-collared shirt and a pair of black pleather pants. This outfit was worn at nearly every show for my junior and senior year of high school. Stage lights heated the outfit up, and I would sweat like a sauna turned on high. But when I had my uniform on, I felt invincible, my energy level went through the roof, and I was truly fearless.
I mention the clothing because it represents a character I sometimes play for a living. Much like a superhero with an alternate identity, these items are part of my uniform. When I step onto the stage, I am tapping into a much different part of my personality. There is the husband, son, friend, and teacher...and then there is the performer. It sounds silly that a few pieces of clothing can play any part in this transformation, but yet, we see this concept in action nearly everyday. The businessman does not wear flip-flops to the office. The surfer does not wear overalls to the beach. There are appropriate wardrobes for all occupations, and, aside from functionality, the attire also delivers psychological transformation.
The performer is a character. This character can be anything the performer decides. Often the character that a performer creates is in contrast to their personality off the stage. For example, a person who is soft spoken, reserved, and keeps to himself or herself can be a wild animal on the stage. The canvas for a performer’s character starts blank, and part of the fun in performing is deciding how to approach a particular situation. When I play this show tomorrow, I will be a subtly different character than when I play with Air Supply. The Frank Sinatra suit of armor is widely different than the Alice Cooper one. I have included a number of pictures to demonstrate the differences in character from one situation to another.
Part of what we do at SoundLife Music Academy is get students to go past learning to play a song and get to the heart of what it means to perform a song. This is why we host two concerts for our students every year and spend so much time preparing to take the stage. Each time a student performs, we can see their character develop. In lessons, we get to review this progress and make decisions about how they want to change or embellish their performances in the future.
Trust me that Robert Plant, Steven Tyler, and Mick Jagger did not just get on stage one day and start commanding audiences. They put in their 10,000 hours to learn their craft and then another 10,000 hours learning how to deliver it. Take a look at each of these examples. When you see them on stage, they know exactly what to do, who they are, and how they want to be perceived. They have defined their character during thousands of performances spanning decades. This is why we pay hundreds of dollars to see them, and it is why they never disappoint. All of that mastery starts small with one song on one stage in front of just a handful of people.
It’s all in the suit that you wear. Parents should feel encouraged to get involved with building a star performer or performers. Have fun making outfits, searching through thrift and vintage stores, or/and going through old clothing. Get a full length mirror for the practice room, step up to the instrument and imagine who you want to be, imagine your fans waiting on your every note and every word, and paint your master piece. You can do and be anything. If your imagination can perceive it and your heart can believe it, then your actions can achieve it.