Does Your Audience Like You?

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“But how do you make an audience like you?”

I really thought I had heard wrong. I was at a meeting of experienced chamber musicians who had just been awarded very generous grants. My flutist partner Joan Sparks and I were among the grant winners, and we were all getting advice from a music marketing consultant. One of the other winners asked the question, “But how do you make the audience like you?”

Every once in a while, someone will say something that you never forget. Perhaps it has a special meaning or is very profound. Or perhaps it is just incredible.

That’s what this question was to me. I found it nearly impossible to understand how a musician could achieve such a high level of success and still have this question. For Joan and me, having an audience like us was never a problem. It was never even a concern. It was a given; we knew they would like us.

Over the more than twenty-five years we have performed together as SPARX, Joan and I have played for some unusual audiences. We’ve played school concerts at all boys high schools where you might think flute and harp would be a tough sell. We have played at nursing homes in the memory-impaired units. We have played for camp programs and in shopping malls. And always, we have been able to connect and communicate with our audiences.

I believe that every audience can “like” you, that you can draw in almost anyone with your music. For some people, it is second nature. But for those of you who are less certain, I believe there are three truths that will show you why you never need worry if an audience will enjoy your performance.

Truth #1. The music speaks for itself. Music is a communicating art. It is a medium and a message. It is  the composer’s voice speaking through your playing, and it will speak. And others will listen. The music drew you in. Why wouldn’t it draw in others as well?

Truth #2. Sharing a passion is almost irresistible. Enthusiasm is contagious. Have you ever noticed how someone else’s smile or good mood can lift your own spirits? In the same way, your love for your instrument and the music shines through and catches the interest of listeners. That’s why we strive to make our music as expressive as possible. The emotion and energy which we put in to our performance is what reaches out to an audience and brings them on the musical journey with us.

Truth #3. Everyone loves receiving a gift. Do you understand the value of the gift you are giving? It is not only the gift of music, but it is also the gift of yourself. It is the gift of your time, energy, desire, devotion and love. You have put yourself into your music, and you are presenting (present-ing, get it?) it in your hands to those who hear it. You may not think of it as a gift, but your listeners perceive it as one.

I was reminded of this truth just this summer. I took my harp camp students to play a performance at a local retirement community. A gentleman came up to me afterwards and said, “I didn’t think I would like a harp concert, but I really liked it. It was great. Thank you.” It wasn’t because the students played well that he liked it. He liked it because they played. For him.

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  • Eric Allison

    Truth #1 has only dawned on me recently. It delineates sharing an enjoyable experience and conducting a fearful performance. Would that I had understood when playing the piano as a child. Thank You Anne for sharing these tips.

    Truth #2 is absolutely true. My first teacher evaluations floored me with comments such as “is very enthusiastic about the subject.” I’ll never forget, all those years ago, wondering why that would matter to a student. People can tell instantly whether or not you want to be somewhere and how you feel about participating in the activity. There’s no way to hide or mask it effectively.

    I am, though, having a problem “expressing” myself because too much movement unseats me or the harp placing my head and arms out of position and sometimes requiring feet adjustments. Perhaps some practice sessions on the high seas will help. Where’s my calendar?


  • Cindy Freebern

    I’m a hammered dulcimer player, but some of your comments definitely work for me too!


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