Concert audiences are a wonderful thing. We need them to come for a few reasons, not the least of which are ticket sales and someone to perform for! I strongly believe in audience engagement - before, during, and after a concert. Do you ever talk with audience members at your concerts? If the answer is, "Yes, absolutely!" then good on you! If your answer is, "Never, I'm far too busy to be bothered," or, "What the heck is this *audience interaction*?" then this little post is for you. Some things to think about before, during, and after your performance:
Before: people buy tickets to an event because they are interested in something about it. In the case of a concert, an audience member may know the performer, be interested in the music being performed, love the instrument that the performer will play, or any number of other things. Getting a ticket holder really excited about the concert before they show up can be difficult. It's one of the reasons why I write this blog. I like to talk about what is going on in my head while I'm practicing. I enjoy discussing musical and non-musical aspects of my life. Sometimes, I post things that about my work that I wouldn't write in a program note. Any of these things helps an audience member to personally connect with a performer. Jennifer Bewerse, in our Q&A, mentioned prodigiously throughout this blog, once told me that audience members came up to her after concerts and talked about her blog, which they had read before coming to the concert. I've experienced this as well. Sometimes it's a bit surreal to hear someone you've never met ask about that passage you'd been working so hard on, or compliment the bow you had practiced in the shower.
During: I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a fan of talking to the audience during concerts. I write program notes so that I don't have to stumble through a prepared speech. When I get nervous, I talk quickly, I forget things, and I generally confuse everyone. If I don't have a speech memorized, I mess it up. If I do have the speech memorized, it sounds like I'm giving a recitation. Therefore, I try not to do it. That said, I enjoy opening up a bit, tearing down the fourth wall and letting the audience in to my own little performance space. This is also the reason why I really love performing in more intimate and unusual spaces (bookstores, bars, etc.). When an audience member purchased a ticket because they love the cello, I expect that they were hoping to hear solo Bach. When I play works by DOMINICK DIORIO, STEVEN KNELL, Ned Rorem, and even Benjamin Britten, I feel the need to connect and explain why this (often crazy and new) music is just as awesome as that of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.
After: TALK TO YOUR AUDIENCES! Pack up your instrument, change your shoes, get a drink of water (or some such), do whatever you must do immediately after walking off stage, as quickly as possible and run - RUN - to the lobby or common area and talk to each and every one of those who purchased tickets to see you. Hug your mother, shake your uncle's hand, and chat with every person who will talk to you! Explain why you love what you do, why the music you just played is the best-est stuff ever! And hand out business cards. To everyone. Be memorable, be personable, and you will be hired back. Yo-Yo Ma played a concert at the University of Georgia a few seasons back. On the second half he put on and played in a UGA logo t-shirt and the audience loved it. They also loved that he's Yo-Yo Ma, so it didn't matter how he sounded or what he did, but that's beside the point. In the case of us mere mortals, the audience might not necessarily remember how you play, but they will absolutely remember how much fun it was to talk to you after the performance!
When you engage an audience, they come to see you again. When a person in the audience is a promoter, they hire you. When you get hired, you make money and play more concerts. And the cycle repeats itself. The hard part is getting hired in the first place.