How To Be a Compassionate Classical Performer

Compassion is empathy in action. It’s about more than appreciating how others are feeling. It’s the sympathetic understanding of other people’s distress, coupled with a real desire to alleviate it. Compassion is an extremely attractive personal trait and a valuable social skill with a myriad of applications in the professional life of a classical performer.

Compassion - A Characteristic of Attractiveness

Compassion for your audience

Music is the language of emotion, and since compassion deals with emotion, we might assume that being a compassionate musician means trying to connect with and help our audience. That’s certainly a part of it. Music can be very cathartic. The right piece at the right time allows listeners to tap into strong feelings and process them without having to experience the situations that might ordinarily elicit those feelings directly.

Of course, we should be compassionate toward our audience! The trick is – unless you are playing to an audience of one, your listeners are bound to have all sorts of different things going on their lives – a wide variety of distress and joy – and you most often will have no idea what those things are, let alone how you might help. So, while compassion is a great goal when performing, it’s rather difficult to put into action.

Compassion for your colleagues

It’s easier to imagine how we can treat our fellow players with compassion. After all, we’re together in the same boat. Once you’ve been around the block a few times, you develop a deep sympathy for people new to the scene. Their struggles are familiar. You remember how hard it was, and you truly want to help.

And you should help. It’s only right that those at the top offer a hand to those coming up behind. But, there is such a thing as too much help.

If there is something you can do to make this journey a little easier on a fellow musician, by all means, do it. But remember, it’s the struggle, not the success that makes us stronger. If you help too much just because watching someone else struggle is uncomfortable for you, you aren’t doing anyone any favors. You’re merely alleviating your own distress.

Sometimes we “help” people who don’t actually need our help just so we can leave our own mark, or make sure something is done “right.” As Anne Lammott says, “Help is the sunny side of control.” If you’re guilty of this kind of helping, it’s time to get honest and realize that your help has absolutely nothing to do with compassion.

Compassion for the person signing your check

Perhaps the hardest (and most important) place to practice compassion is in your negotiations with venues and presenters.

When we’re trying to book gigs, it’s easy to take a “no” as a personal affront. We feel rejected, and it raises our defenses. But very often, the people making the decisions have strict parameters they have to meet. They must make hard decisions, and they’re often limited by things outside of their control.

For example, if you are trying to program performances in a national chain, the person you consider to be the decision maker is usually answerable to a faceless corporate office somewhere. They have a job to do, and like the rest of us, they are simply trying to do the best job they can. Though you may be flexible and see the opportunities in a given situation, many times the people you’re dealing with don’t have the same kind of flexibility.

No one likes to say no. Most decent people want to include as many others as possible (and most people are decent). Show some compassion for the situation the people you are working with find themselves in – help solve problems if possible. If there’s no way to help overcome the hurdles, be gracious. Even if you can’t book a gig now, a compassionate response makes you likable and memorable. You become the go-to when they have an opportunity that does fit.

Ultimately, the music business is a business of relationships. Compassionate people are the kind of people that audiences, players, and presenters want to be in relationship with.

This is part of our series on the characteristics of attractive people. If you would like to hear the live discussion about this characteristic, head on over to now.

If you are ready to learn more about how to build a profitable, fulfilling career as a performing classical musician, check out Concert University, and the free webinar that outlines 5 strategies for success.