Thursday, February 17, 2011

What Can Michael Teach us About Performance?

So, I have the flu this week and to pass the time I'm watching "This is it".  (Michael Jackson's last documentary.)  I hadn't expected to want to show it to my music students, but now I think I will.  There are some things about him and his work ethic I want them to see.

Now, I know I'm not the only one who is super annoyed by the hypocrisy of people over the whole Michael Jackson death thing.  For years, the public perception was that he was a crazy pedophile.  Then, as soon as he died, boom!  Instant genuis/success/idol/etc overnight.  Okay so in his personal life, he was a mess, had too much plastic surgery, and you'd let NEVER let your kids around him.  But---in his professional life, he really was fantastic at what he did.  A true performer. 

What I want my students to learn from Michael Jackson:

  • Work Hard - Most shows these days make it look like good performances just happen spontaneously, without rehearsal.  Most kids think that they can just "free-style" it on stage and something good will happen.  I have a hard time convincing them that a good performance take hours of rehearsal.  Well, this documentary shows just how hard and how many hours of work Michael put in behind the scenes.  Say whatever you want about him, but the man was NOT lazy!  He was committed to his work.
  • Be Unique - Michael had his own style. In clothes, in dance moves, in music.  He did not look or sound like anyone else!  I don't want my students to imitate other, successful musicians.  I want them to develop their own style.
  • Know Your Music - Michael knew his music inside and out.  Every key, tempo, pause, sound effect, etc.  He knew exactly what he wanted to hear and was not afraid to ask for it.
  • No Diva Fits - You hear a lot about famous singers having diva fits, but did you ever hear about Michael having one?  This documentary showed him letting people know when things weren't right, but he did it respectfully.  No shouting or anger.  Just "hey, this isn't here and I need it to be.   Fix it."     
  • Be Able to Bring It!  - In an age where so much reliance is given to digital editing and things like autotune, it's valuable for a performer to really be able to sing (or play) without electronic help.  Michael sang his shows live and was in tune.  You hear people like Tayler Swift and Justin Beiber sing live, and they're a quarter tone flat!  Also, I bet if Michael were to sing the National Anthem, he would've gotten the words right!
  • Be the BEST at What You Do - 'Nuff said.
Again, I would never tell my students to emulate Michael Jackson's personal life, however as far as performance is concerned, they would do well to take note!

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