My storytelling friend, Steve Zimmer, pointed this out to me recently:
Natalie Merchant performing at TED Live 2010.
I love this performance so much.
The best part – first pointed out to me by Steve – is when Merchant tells the audience to quiet down:
“Curb the enthusiasm, just a little bit. Just bring it down a little. It’s my turn.”
Then she chats with the audience a bit as she sings, injecting humor and heart into an already beautiful song.
It’s a perfect example of what it means to perform live, and how powerful and memorable a performance can be when the performer isn’t locked into words and meter and beat.
It’s the difference between singing a song to an audience as it was written and performing for an audience, making it your own and transforming every moment a singular experience.
It’s why I tell storytellers to avoid memorizing their stories word for word. If you’re locked into the text, and if you’re desiring perfection, you’ll miss the moments when improvisation and inspiration can take hold and the performance can become something so much better than you ever expected.
I’ve seen Natalie Merchant perform before, and I’ll likely see her perform again, but I don’t think I’ll ever remember a performance like I’ll remember this one, for all the right reasons.