What the Stage Means to Me

Sometimes Louis Levitt’s life as a performing musician is unstable and difficult, but he’s still fully committed because on stage he can be true, honest, vulnerable, innocent, and authentic in a way that is profoundly meaningful to him. “To me personally, the stage means FREEDOM.”

Written By

Louis Levitt

First of all, I’d like to preface this by recognizing that I see a lot of composer-centered posts on NewMusicBox. This is insightful for me as a musician (and as a writer, in this situation) because, well, I’m not a composer (SPOILER ALERT: yet!).

So my not-so-hidden goal this week is to offer composers some context and insight regarding the professional challenges I’ve encountered and the goals that keep me motivated and moving forward, while also hopefully inspiring some performers while I’m at it. Composers want their music played well and played often, and we performers want to play awesome music, so maybe this dialogue will lead to a better understanding and more beautiful music being written and performed? A boy can dream.

In my last entry, I spoke about fear and judgment and how they impact my decisions within the context of artistic risk and career choices.

The one place I’ve recently realized they do not impact me is on stage. I think it is important for composers to know that when they write for me or for my chamber ensemble Sybarite5. Does this mean I might get some crazy, out there shit written for me now and then? Yup. IS that my goal? Nope. I just want composers to know that they should feel free to express their point of view in their music without being too worried about it. Almost every time I or my ensemble gets a new piece from someone who wrote it because they “think” it sounds like music “we play,” it never works. In contrast, when I get a piece from a composer that has their own focused and unique voice, I and my Sybarite5 colleagues are often are compelled to perform it. And perform it often! At the end of the day, if I’ve chosen to repeatedly perform a piece in public, it’s not usually because I hate it. It’s usually because it resonates with me in some way, and I want to communicate that on stage with the audience.

“Love Is a Dog From Hell” – Bukowski

Why do I do it? I love it. I love the music. I love the instrument—bass is the best! I love the freaky little ensemble we’ve made (#stringquintet #FTW). And more than anything, I want to share this love with the world when I perform.

Now, if something about that “share the love” sounded vanilla because it was carefree and simple, you’re gonna have to prepare for some disappointment. Love ain’t easy, and neither is playing and presenting new music.

But I don’t play because it’s an easy job. It’s not; it’s grueling. Life on the road away from family, kids, your support team, and your routine IS TOUGH. And, news flash, it doesn’t get easier. Anyone who wants to romanticize the routine of a traveling classical chamber musician is flat-out mistaken. Don’t get me wrong, we get to do great things. But there is a price to pay—including the literal cost of doing this job. I don’t play because it’s a good way to make a bunch of money. If I wanted to make a bunch of money, I’d be in real estate, finance, law, or medicine. Period, end of story.

But for some reason unbeknownst to me, life and music cannot be centered around money for me. It just cannot. There has to be something more.

Does this sometimes make my life scary, unstable, and difficult? YES. Do I always find a way to make things work? YES.

I make it work, but it’s challenging. So why do I love the stage so much? For some reason, on stage I can be true, honest, vulnerable, innocent, and authentic in a way that is meaningful to me (and ideally others). To me personally, the stage means FREEDOM.

To me personally, the stage means FREEDOM.

Freedom to be myself. Freedom to express. Freedom to share.

Why is it important for me be authentic on stage and who needs to know about that? How about the glorious people who write the beautiful music we wanna play. And, I think the music is the stuff that connects us humans to each other.

How does knowing this help composers? I want composers to know this because I’m hopeful that they will write and communicate more honestly and authentically, and know that it’s more than a concert for me.

How does it impact the work and its presentation? It often means that there are added layers of engagement in musical selections. There’s the music, the story, and the relationship with the composer.

How does the authenticity of the composer and the authenticity of the performer line up? I think in these cases, like seeks like. I’m interested in composers who have an authentic voice. More than that, I’m compelled to program their works and perform them repeatedly. I’m looking for a piece that is going to have a lifespan and not be a flash in the pan.

So when you write music for me, or my ensembles, you should have that info. And, chances are, if you have written for us, you do. Because we are friends with our composer colleagues. We hang. We want to hang. We get along. We value knowing the composers who write for us and having a truly collaborative relationships with them just as much as we value the music they write. Yes, you did read that right, we value the person as much the product. Why? Because when we play those pieces it’s like having a friend join us on stage.

How does Sybarite5 pick the people we work with and the music we play?

I guess I’ve got a week to write that down and let you know.