I have been studying a lot of performers I look up to recently. Analyzing their movements. Trying to figure out what makes them so enthralling to watch and what makes each of their performances so engaging. I have come to the conclusion that the one thing that sets a talented artist apart from a remarkable one is the emotion that they bring personal experience and emotion into the music. In my opinion, anyone who has an extensive background in musical training can learn to be a great musician technically, but it takes a higher level of musical enlightenment to connect the objective repertoire to your own emotions, and then proceed to be able to convey these emotions to your audience.
How do we reach this level of musical enlightenment? Is it a teachable thing, or must it come naturally? This question I haven't come up with a solid answer to yet, because I think that it varies depending on the kind of person you are. For me, I have never really had trouble conveying my emotions musically, but I struggle to be able to control them when I play. Often, my music gets far too intense for the appropriate style of piece I am performing, and I am constantly told to hold back and not give so much away at the beginning. I am an emotional, extroverted person, so music is in a way my medium of emotional release. For an introverted person, it may be more difficult to convey your emotions, which is not by any means a bad thing. If you are this type of person, it may be helpful to develop a story ahead of time that you want to communicate to your audience through the piece you're playing. Listen to a recording of your piece, and close your eyes and try to picture a living memory that the music reminds you of. Hold onto that memory, and every time you pull out that piece to practice, take a few moments beforehand to center yourself and get into the moment. Practicing with intention and an image in mind will translate into your performance. If you are extroverted like me, you may want to experiment with the same type of thing: listening to the piece and developing a clear memory or image to tie to the piece you're playing, but prolong it. Mark where the climactic point in the music occurs, and make sure your imagery doesn't peak before then. Practice holding back, and gradually building up in intensity towards that point. Of course, this tactic will not work for every piece you play, and you must continue to be sensitive and respectful of the musical style. However, it can provide a structure for a practice method you use in the back of your mind for every type of music you play, whether its a solo piece, chamber piece or even a large ensemble piece. Often, I find myself drifting into an image during a piece I'm playing with a large ensemble, and I try to pick up on the imagery that the other musicians performing with me are producing as well.
I have found that the most moving and inspirational pieces of music I have ever heard are ones composed for a specific person or have a specific story tied to them. Music based on personal experience never fails to move me, and I also believe that musicians that draw from personal experience and translate it into their music often have the most emotionally moving performances as well. If you take a step back and think about it, pursuing music as a career without having a burning passion for it is like continuing to date someone you don't necessarily like because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Artists and musicians of all forms are some of the most emotional people I have ever met, in the best way possible. To create art means to dig deep within the darkest parts of your soul, and make yourself vulnerable for the sake of the music. Every time we perform, compose, create, write, we are exposing our weaknesses and publishing them for the world to see. We are giving part of our soul to the work we are creating, and sharing our emotions with whoever cares to listen, read, watch... Producing music without passion and without emotion can be the kiss of death to an artist, because the raw origins of artistic creation were based around releasing and sharing emotional hardships. I believe that if you possess the ability to emotionally move your audience, that in itself is musical success.