loves music. Performing music is not a selfish pleasure. Everyone wins: performer and listener. Witness, in fact, the phenomenon
of recorded music. A part of learning an instrument, whatever it may be, will eventually be performance. This is what I am going to tell you about.
. One. I am by facility more a singer than anything else, and my experience as it relates to this node lies solely in the solo classical performance of that field. Those are my limitations. Two. Although much of this applies broadly to recitals, some things are obviously singer-specific, because that is what I know
. Three. I have tried to make this briefer than its prequel
, because a lot of people complained about length. Four. I am pompous and patronising. Deal
. So, without further ado...
It is crucial to remember when you are performing, that the people you are entertaining are there just for that purpose: they want entertainment. They want to enjoy themselves. Also, it is well beyond unlikely that they know your repertoire as well as you do. In combination, this gives you the first rule of performance: be professional. During and after, it is essential that you behave as though you were utterly perfect. Of course you weren't, no-one is. Evgeny Kissin
makes mistakes. The thing is that the audience don't want to know
that you weren't perfect. They want to believe that what they have witnessed was masterful. Help them to believe it by acting the part.
Performance etiquette. Please. Smile. This is important. There's no need for a manic rictus
, but do at least smile to acknowledge applause after your performance. Opinions differ here: once, on principle, in my Grade 8 exam, I did not smile. Every song I sang was about death and rejection. Result? I nearly failed. The comment sheet read 'Did not smile'. That was it. If your music is longing or full of sturm und drang
, and you don’t want to smile because it’s inappropriate, do try to be expressive with you breathing and your eyes.
Make sure you have learnt your programme at least one month before your concert date. Off by heart. It's a mantra that you should know your pieces so well that you are bored
with them on the day. You shouldn't have to think about what you are doing. This isn't to say that you should perform on automatic pilot
: you owe the audience a debt of effort, and it is a debt you should always try to pay. You just have to minimalise the margin for error, however you can. If you're learning stuff even the week before, you are failing to respect
the audience, or more crucially, yourself
Attire is also important. Dress with care. This comes under respect too. Audiences will
make a judgment based on your appearance before you start, if they can. This is not to say you should always wear a DJ
or a suit. You should make the audience feel comfortable with how you present yourself, relative to how they present themselves. Dress to suit the tone of your programme and the tone and size of the concert. If it's barbershop, you can go anywhere from open-necked coloured
shirts to Evening Dress. If it's more serious, dress suitably. One other thing: if your recital is a morning or afternoon event, don’t wear evening dress! Disaster. Presentation is a small
but very important
Choice of music
Unless you are rampant
ly hot shit
, don't choose things Classic FM
would play. Try to avoid stuff that's too well known. Your advantage over the audience lies in your knowing the music better than them, and hence their missing mistakes. Also, performing obscura introduces the audience to new things, which has to be good. Example: it is a brave cellist
indeed who will attempt any of the Bach Cello Suites
. If everyone has a recording of what you're playing, obviously you're screwed. Give yourself a chance: I'd err on the side of esoteric
a, without being alien
ating. On the other hand, if you can
play something well known with very great accuracy
, do: everyone will love you. If you’re not totally sure that you can, however, don’t. Ouroboros says: I totally disagree on the topic of avoiding playing pieces everyone has already heard. One needs to prove one’s chops, or draw a crowd that expects to be able to follow the programme.
These are general things that can apply to all areas of performance, even public speaking. Perhaps they are obvious things, but they are nonetheless essential. These next things are more singer specific, though I guess some could still apply. So
You are, of course, standing. You should stand naturally
. Stand tall
, as though a thread comes out of the crown
of your head, but relaxed. Posture is totally critical. Slouching cramps your lungs, looks bad, and generally impedes your cool. Don't push your shoulders back and chest forward: you look ridiculous
, but tall, I said. That's better. For more notes on posture when singing, go here
These are a problem. Though you have of course learnt your music by heart, it might be reassuring to hold a copy, both for emergency reference - in the fluster
of performance a surprising amount can go AWOL
- and to give your hands something to do. Bad things to do with you hands include conducting yourself, wringing them together furiously, and shaking uncontrollably. If you do have a copy, don't hide behind it. You have not come on stage to hide your face and block
your sound. If you don't fancy having a copy, rest your hands at your sides or have one on the piano. Whatever feels more natural. Try not to look awkward: you'll make the audience feel ill at ease
.a scar faery says:One thing I hate is bored-looking performers. It might be incredibly cheesy to "move with the music!" but at least it's more interesting to watch than someone at a piano with only their fingers doing any work.
Another problem. When you're performing, you're very much aware of the unwritten contract between performer and audience. There has to be a connection. You have
to involve them. They must
be made to feel integral to the experience, because, in truth, they are
. Do not
stare at the floor: your sound gets lost and you look silly. Try
to look around the auditorium. If you're terrified, as you might well be, fix your beady eye
on a particularly sour
-looking member of the audience. Whatever you do, it is critical that you engage
If you are singing an aria, do not but do not
act it out. This is not an opera. You will look silly. It’s out of place and out of context. Also, Infinite Burn
will throw things at you.
What to do when things go wrong.
Because sometimes they will. What I said in Perfectionism
applies more than ever here. The audience do not want to know that you have made an error, so you must help them to ignore it. Small errors, like wrong notes, wrong entries, and so on, can easily be disguised if you know your music well enough. Only in the most dire
of cases should you stop and begin again. Only if your performance has gone wrong beyond recovery should you do this. Do not, under any circumstances, get fluster
ed, or embarrassed. You are in control, and must remain so. Never apologise
. I won't go into the specifics of what to do in which scenario
, because that's unnecessary. Just remain calm
, and controlled.
It is crucial as a performer that in Siobhan
’s words you ‘live what you sing’. If your piece is in a foreign tongue, you must know the meaning of the words, both poetically and literally. If you have no meaning, you can give no expression. It is inexcusable not to understand what you are singing. See respect
. This applies to a lesser extent to instrumentalists too: understand the mindset of the composer when your piece was written, so that the audience can understand too.
Enough. Performance is as personal a form of creative expression as any, be it painting or writing or dancing. As such, your mileage may vary on any of the above points. I’ve tried to highlight the most basic features.
The most important thing to remember
when performing is that it is not a one-way process. I have tried here to convey
some inkling of the partnership between you and them that is so important. A technically perfect performance that ignores the crowd is a bad
performance. This is because at the end of the day
, you're not doing it for you. You're doing it for them. Above all, have fun. Relax, enjoy yourself, and everything will be fine.
Thank you for listening.Wicked mad props to Infinite Burn, Ouroboros, Siobhan, swankivy and a scar faery. Word.