Livingston Taylor is many things – singer, songwriter, storyteller, author, pilot, professor and more. For a half century he has been creating and performing music and enriching the lives of his audience and his students. He will perform two shows a night, Aug. 25-27, at Blue Note Napa.
Taylor, three years younger than superstar brother James, has recorded 19 albums over the span of the last 47 years and has toured continuously, typically doing over 75 shows a year. His most recent album is 2017’s “Safe Home” on Chesky Records. Later this year, the documentary film, “Livingston Taylor – Life is Good,” will be released.
On the phone last week from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Taylor spoke at length about his fascination with the elements of live musical performance and his experience as a faculty member at the College. “I teach a course called Stage Performance,” he said. “It’s about how to be on stage
“Through the ‘80s, I was known as a good live performer and had given an occasional lecture on stage performance. A friend from the college asked if I’d be interested in teaching a course at Berklee. That was 28 years ago. I’ve been teaching the course ever since and now teach about 200 students a year. It’s been very gratifying.”
Talking about the course, Taylor quickly got to the subject of fear, of stage fright, saying implicitly that this is a major issue among his students. “Before we define how to be on stage, we have to define why are we are on stage,” he said. “What was our vision? Why did we think it was okay to interrupt other people’s lives and ask that they suspend their reality and enter our reality?
“These are compelling questions that get to the core of being on stage and being nervous. Why do we get nervous? What are we scared of? Ultimately what we’re scared of is that we’re interrupting people’s lives, having the arrogance to do that without something that will be of value to them. That’s ultimately where our fear comes from.”
“The problem for a performer being nervous,” Taylor said, “is that when you’re nervous, you’re thinking about yourself, but the audience is paying you to think about them. Nervousness is self-centered behavior. They’re not paying you to think about yourself. The core of my course is ‘How do you find and care for an audience?’”
Taylor aggregated his thoughts about the subject in his 2011 book, “Stage Performance.”He writes, “I think of a performance as a conversation between you and an audience … and having belief in yourself, developing confidence in your ability to have the conversation, and learning to be free of fear and open in front of all those people.
“I always watch my audience, and when the lights are in my eyes, I listen to them: the rustle of corduroy, the creak of a chair, the cough of boredom. All are part of the conversation of performance. I strive to speak fluent ‘audience-ese.’”
“Please remember,” he continues, “your audience means a lot more to you than you mean to them…The only enduring source of support for a career is an audience. They pay your salary. They are the foundation of your career.”