Monday, March 11, 2013

Question Everything: Support

What does it mean to “support” another player?  We usually take that term to mean “support a player on stage”, but why stop there?

Consider supporting someone on stage as a skill.  At first most of us learn how to support another player on stage by copying how others in our group do it.  If there’s a lot of kiai, we tend to kiai a lot   If the kiai are more like screams, then we’ll scream too.  If there’s room for embellishments during their solo, then we learn what embellishing is acceptable.

To some people, that’s where the supporting stops.  And while it may genuine, it may also not be as developed as it could be.  Some kiai because they feel they have to kiai, where it can become less a shout of spirit and more a shout of noise.

If someone else is soloing and you feel like letting out a big powerful kiai to boost them, then by all means, go for it!  It doesn’t even have to be on a certain beat or all that musical.  What’s much harder to do is to be really paying attention to that soloist, feeling their style, hearing their rhythms.  To kiai in the spaces or get louder on percussion during a really exciting part takes practice, but can often amp up the effect of the solo more than the sum of its parts.  Naturally, knowing the soloist’s style over time makes this easier, but it’s still a skill to be practiced, just like playing fast for long periods of time or being light on the feet.

You can see this kind of support sometimes in duets between master artists, like when two musicians play with each other.  They may not be completely playing off each other, but they are listening to and reacting to the other person without having to really think too much about it.

Another way of showing support is through the face and body language.  Shifting the weight towards the soloist, keeping your gaze at them, and smiling are all examples of this.  Again, this can always be improved on and shouldn’t be left as a “default” state.  Are you really listening to the soloist?  When can you “punctuate” their pauses or moments with a sharp nod or a quick push of the weight in?

As there are different ways to support a soloist onstage, what about off-stage?  Ever tell a fellow player that you really liked their solo?  Ever taken a move and re-purposed it, not quite stealing it but making it more of a homage?  It's not quite as easy to support a soloist off-stage but it is possible!

Ultimately, supporting a player takes many different forms.  It's up to you to explore how much and how far you want to go, but as always, question how much of it you do and how you do it!

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