I LOVE THE OLYMPICS. A LOT. Over the past few days, my obsessive Olympics-watching has been mostly gymnastics-focused. Watching these young human people execute the virtually impossible in an extremely high-pressure situation is RIVETING. In many ways, the mental strength and flexibility these ladies and gentleman exhibit is more astounding than their impressive physical feats (physical feetz). A whole big pile of being a performing musician is, obviously, performance, and I love to watch people who can tap into the mental toughness necessary to produce in high-pressure scenarios.
Did everyone read that horrifying thing in Boston magazine about percussion auditions for the BSO about a month ago? As silly as this may sound, the realities of modern orchestra auditions are more similar to a vault in the Olympic finals than they are to, say, playing guitar for some friends around a campfire. The now-or-neverness of the whole Olympic Games is really the fun part. I don't care if you can land a triple on your own, can you do it right now? It's no wonder that one of the most popular music-psychologists (Don Green, who helps musicians win orchestra auditions and get over stage fright) coached Olympian Greg Louganis back into diving after he hit his head on the diving board.
There's also that whole mirror-neuron scenario. We are amazed seeing people with roughly the same physical attributes as ourselves doing insane things. One look at the parents of gymnast Aly Raisman watching her routine and you can see this stuff aggressively at play. I think there's DEFINITELY some element of this in our love of virtuosi. Gorgeousness is one appealing aspect of music, but I'll admit to being blown away by the pure athleticism of some soloists. I love it when composers ask the impossible and performers produce. Does this mean there really can be something a bit jockish about Classical music? Or is jockishness restricted to brass players?