Who is that person? He’s on stage, with four other band members, who are a little more familiar to me, and he’s talking to the audience. He’s a little balder on top than I remember, and also a little more confident. I’m watching my band Brother Face, filmed at The Verdict in Brighton from a camera attached (presumably) to the venue’s ceiling, and this stranger is me. If someone had been swinging from the chandeliers, this is how they might have seen the gig, perhaps in a brief and unlikely moment of stillness, whilst doubtless being distracted by whatever else they were doing up there. We are huddled round the small stage like some kind of puppet show through a fish-eyed lens. Still, I am also pleasantly surprised by his (my) outgoing and relaxed humour, especially since I recently discovered I am an introvert. There I said it. Out and proud. Here is what to do if you meet one…
Wanting a fuller diagnosis of my terminal condition, I took the Myers Briggs personality test, which revealed that I am INTJ personality type. I always wanted something after my name, pin that thing down, wear those letters like a BMus or a PhD. To be an introvert, in this essentially extrovert world of celebrity and self publicity buoyed up with self confidence, is like being a kind of spoilsport, a misery guts, a killjoy, “cheer up, what’s wrong?” sort of person. And introverts are typically predisposed to dwell on this, often taking personality tests or, on occasion, writing whole books to try and figure out what’s going on, which is what Susan Cain did.
With the recent publication of her study of introversion and its benefits, “Quiet”, this secret world has been laid bare, and it seems to have made the poor woman famous (all those book signings and seminars must have been like hell on earth). After reading a couple of chapters, it turns out this last assumption is a myth; it’s not the socialising, it’s being accepted by those people you are with, gaining some kind of “permission” to engage with them. This explains the popularity of social media amongst introverts, happy to blab on about how exciting things are in endless updates whilst retreating to a reassuring solitude in the “real” world. So why am I happy to play the piano on stage, talk to an audience, but reluctant to ask someone in the street the way to the Post Office?
I think it is something to do with the instruments, the piano and the microphone. Playing the piano, in comparison with the “out front” horns, is like a desk job. I am often sat facing the wall (a familiar punishment for those of us who grew up in the olden days), either behind a high wooden box or a six foot table. These boxes and tables, they make noises; I am mostly in control of the type of sound that comes out, and often not. I use them to talk to other musicians on stage in a language in which we are all fluent, and conversations unfold in much the same way they do when normal people speak to each other. There are agreements, fights, crossed wires and moments of telepathic empathy. But often I am not looking at you, the audience, when this happens. You are all looking at the back of my head.
This is a source of immense comfort to me. I once played the clarinet on a gig and, whilst the lack of jazz technique was problematic, the fact I had nothing between myself and the audience was mortifying. As for the microphone; it takes incoherent, shy, awkward mumbling and blows it up to the size of a public address. You don’t have to project, to assert your entitlement to be speaking. Like the piano, it gives you that entitlement, it is a barrier and a portal at the same time. A bit like blogging really. Chris Batchelor, the trumpeter in my band, often confuses sound engineers when he insists on having a microphone in order to play quieter. Projection has its own limitations; it’s not just “fuller”, it’s more insistent, there’s less grain to it. Sometimes you have to explore the changes in sound that happen when instruments are quiet, or slow, or inward looking, when music does not project with the force of an orator’s roar but with the whisper of a softly spoken confidence.
Contrast with this the Post Office scenario – who am I to interrupt the day of a total stranger with what extroverts among you may regard as a simple request, possibly even an opportunity to engage in conversation? He or she is not walking down this street in order that I might ask a question; my presence is an interruption which, as an introvert, I assume is unwelcome on their part. But you, the audience, have by implication agreed to listen to whatever happens on the stage by being here, you have given us a vote of confidence. Of course, once off the stage, the deal is off. I’m back to my usual self, doing my best to be extrovert in a world that seems to demand it most of the time.
I hope this doesn’t sound like whining.
I remember having to transcribe (i.e translate recordings to musical notation) over thirty Bill Evans trio recordings for a book, and because my ear isn’t very accurate (or is it because I doubt my judgement?), I used software to help me out. By using a computer to divide each track into manageable chunks, I could slowly shunt my way through each small section, listen to it over and over, and move one once I’d got it down. On one particular track from the Village Vanguard sessions, one of the most listened to jazz albums in history, I looped the first few bars. As I listened I heard, in addition to the exquisite unfolding of Evans’s music, an eerie howl that seemed to envelop the music. When I listened to the track all the way through, without the loop, it had vanished. I went back to looping the opening section; there it was again, like some angry Ghost of Analogue’s Past invading my computer. The music was quite clearly haunted, even a devout sceptic (albeit an introverted sceptic) such as myself could not refute the evidence. Clinking of wine glasses in the background, when looped, began as shambolic percussion, but the more I listened the more I could hear notes, and then I almost started to write them down as part of the transcript. It was hard to tell where notes began and where sound ended.
We are unreliable witnesses to this music, and now that the Brother Face tour has finished, it’s time for me to listen over the live recordings and videos and see if any of it makes sense. I’m hoping make some kind of album, but before I do that I need to hear it like it’s someone else’s music, not mine – to see it from the chandelier. In the meantime, perhaps I should adopt a more “extrovert” approach just to keep up; it is what we are required to do from time to time.
“Massively looking forward to this exciting new release with some of my favourite musicians bringing these amazing compositions to life.”
- Do introverts understand extroverts? (introvertedcharisma.wordpress.com)
- 22 Tips To Better Care for Introverts and Extroverts – The Buffer Blog (bufferapp.com)
- Inequity in Education (embracethequiet.wordpress.com)
- I’m Not Shy; I Just Don’t Want to Talk to You (gmupsychblog.wordpress.com)
5 responses to “Introverted Snobbery”
I did the Myers-Briggs many years ago and have never forgotten that, like you, I am an INTJ. I would suggest we meet, but we INTJ’s don’t really do that sort of thing.
Speaking as an INFL, I couldn’t possibly comment.
I can’t even get that right… INFJ I meant to say!
Great post Liam. I identify a lot with what you say, especially about introversion being a terminal condition. As a kid I was chronically shy, and playing the piano was my emotional outlet. Now I realise in my attempts to forge some sort of career in music how handicapped I am by vestiges of social phobia. Out of necessity I find I can “act as if”, but it’s not my default setting.
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