A few weeks ago I attended an undergraduate recital here at UGA - something that, frankly, I haven't done much since I've been in Georgia - and enjoyed the playing quite a bit. There was one thing that bothered me about the recital though, and it is still gnawing at me: the performer's acknowledgement of applause from the stage, that is, the bow. It was so awkward and distracting, albeit a bit silly! (an aside: I've already had this conversation with said performer, so I don't feel bad telling this story, but I may as well a give a shout out! You know who you are!)
I believe that stage presence is something that absolutely does not come naturally. Being on stage, especially as a soloist, is a nerve wracking situation that can test the moxie of even the steadiest person. When I'm an audience member, I begin to absorb the performance from the moment the performer emerges from the wings. If said performer looks nervous when s/he walks on to stage, if the first bow is a mixture of elephant squat and gazelle leap, I will be immediately begin judging you (not really, but kinda…) and it probably won't be pretty. That sucks, but it's the reality of things.
That said, if a performer walks onstage full of gumption and cheeky sass, I'm immediately in your corner. I'm rooting for you, and I'm probably going to enjoy your performance just a little bit more. That's because I'm coming to watch a show, and let's be serious: a classical music performance really is just a show! The confidence that you (surely) exude while playing your fiddle or tickling those ivories should also be exhibited when you aren't tooting your horn or strumming your guitar. If that conviction isn't on display, well, again, I judge.
So how to fix your tragic bow? Easy: practice.
I feel no shame in telling you, dear reader, that I practice my bow in the shower, in my living room, in front of a mirror, and many other places that a normal person (one of whom I am certainly not…) would find embarrassing. I also practice my stage persona. I think about how I am perceived on stage. It's not difficult to practice:
- One must practice their gait and posture: you can't shuffle and you can't sprint. Otherwise, everything else is fair game.
- Think about what direction your eyes are looking (scanning, staring straight ahead, etc) after you've walked - CONFIDENTLY - on to the stage and begun to acknowledge the applause.
- Come to rest with your feet together, or pretty darned close. (if your feet are shoulder width apart and you start to bow, you will look like one of those little drinking bird toys.)
- Now, bow. Bow like your performance depends on it. (it does.) That is, bend slightly at the waist (let's not over think this…) and stare at the floor for like, two seconds.
- Stop bowing. Smile. Look around. Check out all those people who paid money to hear you. (and SEE you!)
That's it. Not hard. Now, go do it. If one is confident in their time on stage the performance will come across as polished and really just kind of outstanding.
Being on stage isn't easy. It's performing a one (wo)man show: EVERYTHING is up to the performer. So, be a total weirdo and decide how you will walk when you're on stage. Practice your bow in the shower while singing the composite rhythm of that Webern quartet you're playing. It'll be worth it when I watch you from the cheap seats.