In our quest to bring live classical music back into everyone’s daily lives, it is probably wise to ensure audiences enjoy the music we present.
Certainly if we want them to come back, and definitely if we want them to bring someone else with them next time!
Apart from gimmicky tricks and over-bearing visual sensory effects, what can we do?
Here are three beautiful strategies for how you share music with others that, at least in my experience, keeps people engaged and coming back for more.
Music is a language of emotions. It is a fundamental form of expression that no other communication tool or device can ever match. And it is our job as performers to make sure other people participating in the live music experiences we share with them, to engage those emotions. Or at least stir them, or arouse them.
That means we need to grab their attention, dazzle them with the music (not our showmanship), touch them deeply, and help them remember they had a “rocking good time” (as Barbara Snyder of MorristownGreen.com described one of my chamber music concerts!)
Here are three ways to make sure we do that:
1. Include something fun and easy that you play well.
Playing a lighthearted piece of music that is easy to play well can set just the right mood. It can grab everyone’s attention, demonstrate you unique abilities to play brilliantly, and allow the audience to realize they are participating in something quite remarkable.
On top of that, a piece of music that is easy and well-played also gives you much more confidence, and allows you to enjoy the event as much as your audience!
Avoid any excessive acting, prancing, or over-the-top dramatics and let the music sing with its simplicity and beauty. You’ll have the audience eating from the palm of every note.
2. Include something emotionally deep that challenges your skills.
However, if every piece in the program was lighthearted you will probably lose your audience halfway through. At some point everyone realizes when superficiality sets in, and then it is nigh impossible to regain any credibility. Present an emotionally deep piece of music that touches the bottom of your heart, and your audience just might find their own emotional strings tugged at for a while.
It is important they are.
One of the reasons live classical music has left most people’s daily routines is because they no longer let it affect them. In fact, I would venture to say they no longer even realize music can affect them. No-one will understand that music is an emotional journey until they experience it for themselves, so be sure to include a piece that is deep and meaningful to you.
At the same time, it may be challenging for you to perform. It doesn’t matter if the piece is technically difficult, or it brings back bad memories (such as conducting the third movement of Britten’s Four Sea Interludes reminds me of a very painful experience in a rehearsal with the London Philharmonic Orchestra). Either way, prepare a piece that pushes your limits. Doing so demonstrates a human commitment to better yourself, to seek accomplishment, and to overcome life’s challenges. It is inspiring, even if the performance is not perfect. In fact, do not expect to be perfect… just deeply demanding.
3. Present a program using an arch.
I have written about this before, and it is one of the most precious strategies I have ever developed.
(It must have been written during 2014 – the year I lost all my weekly blog posts to the cloud.)
Programming an arch is a pretty simple concept but one that has a profound effect on both performers and audiences. It combines both strategies above and has a more global oversight to sharing music.
Start your program with something relatively easy that you know you can play well – much like climbing one end of an arch. Keep it lighthearted, too, if you can. This will give both you and the audience the confidence you need to engage in the rest of the program. You have accomplished something and done well at it, whilst the audience are assured you know what you are doing and can look forward to the rest of the program.
Program your music like the space under an arch: light & fun, deep and meaningful, light and fun
Then, in the middle of the program is when you include your deep, meaningful and challenging repertoire – just like all the possibilities that could be contained in the space under an arch. Get the audience thinking, feeling, sobbing even. Let them see your concentration as you make it a goal to get through the composition without any major derailments. It’s OK if there are – it makes you human (and as my coaching students will tell you, there are specific strategies for dealing with such problems whilst on stage, too. None of which convey failure!).
Finally, finish your program with more lighthearted and definitely FUN pieces, almost as though you are sliding off the other end of the arch. Again, choose pieces that are relatively easy to play so that you can enjoy them, too. Smile, laugh, have fun. And that’s usually not possible with a technically demanding piece. Is that really how you want the audience to leave your concert – with thoughts of how much hard work it was for you to perform?
No, you want them to leave thinking how much fun you had sharing your music with them, and how much fun they had listening. Yes, there were special moments too, such as bringing back memories of grandma, and watching you clearly push yourself to some technical limits, but overall it was a great time. “I’m coming back!” is what they should be thinking.
Now it’s your turn
How do you think these strategies affect your performance? How do they affect the audience’s experience? Share some examples of these strategies that worked and why, and perhaps some examples that didn’t work and why. Be as specific as you possibly can so we can bring live music back into everyday life and build better societies.
Leave a comment below or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter. Hundreds of passionate people visit my sites for weekly insight and inspiration, so thank you in advance for adding your voice to the conversation.