The audience is hushed; the lights are dimmed. The performer walks out on stage, trying to make her stride confident and hoping that the confidence will show up in her playing as well. Will the audience like what I play? Will they be disappointed? Will they like me?
Over my years of teaching I have helped countless harpists prepare for performance. Some of the performances have been consequential: competitions, auditions, graduation recitals. Others have been more run-of-the-mill like student recitals, church performances or weddings. But even those seemingly less critical audiences like church congregations can seem daunting and intimidating to many harpists. Daunting enough, in fact, that I have known numbers of musicians who will not play in public, or even for their friends and neighbors, (or even the otter audience in the photo!).
While I understand and sympathize with that reluctance, I feel regretful, because I know the value of the experience they are missing. It’s not merely the satisfaction of completing the learning cycle of a piece, but more importantly, it’s the feeling of sharing a musical moment with an audience that is so incredible.
We performers often forget that it’s not all about us. In this world of sharing our lives on social media and the proliferation of “selfie” photos, we must remember that the performance of music is not an act of self-promotion but an act of communication. At its heart, this communication is joyous and generous. We respectfully and creatively interpret a composer’s work and bring it to life for the listeners. We can understand our role to be that of a living translator, creating meaning from the notes on the page and delivering their message to others.
When we allow ourselves as performers to concentrate on the perfection of our performance, we miss the point entirely. The quality of the performance is critical, certainly, but it’s the musical quality, the humanity of the interaction between composer, performer and listener that is most important to each of those three parties.
So what does an audience expect of you? Assuming you are not an internationally famous harpist, an audience expects what you can give them. Does that sound too simple? What follows here is an unusual performance checklist. Use this the next time you prepare for performance to help you keep things in perspective.
The 7 Things an Audience Expects from You
1. A smile and an unhurried bow.
2. Most of the right notes.
3. A regular, rhythmic flow.
4. A musical depiction of an image, a scene or a mood.
5. A sincere effort.
6. No self criticism before, during or after.
7. Graceful acceptance of their compliments.
Now answer this question: what do you expect from your audience?