Sunday, January 20, 2013

Talking to the Audience

I guess that talking to the audience before a concert is something that audiences enjoy, and I suppose that my nostalgia for the "fuddy duddy" concert is something I share with fewer and fewer people as I make my way into what some people might call the "older generation."

Earls and Countesses wear jeans when they appear on television, and many of us commoners address people by first name as soon as we're introduced. I suppose the ways of the world have changed, so I believe it is important that performing musicians who address audiences, whether they are conductors or instrumentalists, make sure that they do it in a way that is appropriate for the audience and for the medium. We musicians may be doing the act of performing, but that doesn't mean we are in the business of providing superficial entertainment. We are still doing something that many of us feel is at least equivalent to a sacred rite. Really. I suppose we all need to learn how to talk to audiences, and we have to learn to do it properly, because the talk before the downbeat might just be here to stay.

I have heard young instrumentalists talk to an audience of people twice their age in a condescending manner. I have heard young conductors try to sound old and experienced, and I have heard people address audiences as "you guys," which is an instant turn-off to me, particularly when that person might be as remote as Antarctica if I were to go backstage. I have also heard conductors reveal very interesting information about the music they are about to play to an audience, and sometimes it isn't information that the conductor previously shared with the musicians in the orchestra.

Note to conductors who have something to say that might help the musicians play a piece with more understanding: we do want to know about it before the performance.

6 comments:

canoetoo said...

What you describe is one of the things that puts me off going to "live" concerts these days. Occasionally a musician has the charisma and story telling ability to pull it off but that's maybe ten percent of the time. Usually I'm sitting there feeling grumpy and thinking: "Please, just shut up and play the music!"

Thomasina said...

«I suppose we all need to learn how to talk to audiences, and we have to learn to do it properly, because the talk before the downbeat might just be here to stay.»

That sums it up. Musicians need to treat any talking they do as part of the performance. Which means bringing to it the same level of artistry, technical proficiency, imagination and preparation that they would bring to the musical performance. That's it.

Some musicians are under the illusion that concert-goers like to see them as "real people" (whatever that might mean) and that amateurish, half-baked talking from the stage will help them better connect with the audience. Not so – talking, done badly, simply irritates many listeners and detracts from the performance.

On the other hand, talking, done really well and as part of the performance by a musician who actually has something to say, can be both illuminating and a joy.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I don't think audiences particularly enjoy talk from the stage, though i am sure some audience members do. It's just not possible to know which, though.

Anonymous said...

I remember having to introduce my pieces in college. We were supposed to talk about whatever concepts and techniques we were using and how that was linked to some deep emotional thing. It seemed pointless. I arrived at a standard little speech "Hi, i wrote this piece of music and i hope you enjoy it" Quick, to the point. (my classmates would talk about set theory and extended techniques for 15 minutes before they'd let the musicians get on with playing ) I dont think there is much need for a speech from the stage in ordinary performance. I dont think it's helpful, you can read about the theory and analyze scores on your own. When i go to a show i dont want a lesson, i want to hear the music.

Michael Leddy said...

The worst talking-from-the-stage I’ve heard has reminded me of an unctuous waiter describing the specials of the day. I’m neither kidding not exaggerating.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Ouch. That is....icky.

I've heard the worst and I've heard the best, sometimes from the same person, Michael Tilson Thomas. He is wildly variable when he picks up the microphone. Sometimes he really should not have; if he ever rehearses his spiels, he should do it with an audience of people who will tell him when to shut up. On the other hand, he is sometimes brilliant. His talk-from-the-stage before the Berg Chamber Concerto a few years ago was first-class, largely because rather than propagandizing, he discussed the music's themes and construction, and had the players demonstrate the themes.