Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Not everyone experiences a concert in the same way

This is a revised version of a post which first appeared as How was it for you? in March 2007. 

Just because you as a singer have a great time in a concert doesn’t mean it went well.

happy audience

Happy audience by Ekke Vasli

Just because you as a choral director felt the rehearsal went much better than the actual performance doesn’t mean the concert was bad.

Just because you as an audience member thought it was wonderful doesn’t mean that the singers enjoyed the experience.

Not everybody experiences a performance in the same way.

a typical concert

Woven Chords often perform at their ‘home’ venue in the beautiful Georgian ballroom of Stamford Arts Centre in Lincolnshire. The room is gorgeous and has featured in many costume drama films. Beautiful surroundings complete with chandeliers and a wonderful acoustic – what more could you ask for?

We often muster a choir of at least 60 singers and a capacity audience of 120 or so. There are no stage lights in the ballroom so we can see the whites of the audience’s eyes! It feels very intimate and cosy.

The acoustics are great, the choir relaxed and on form, the audience with us, and everyone has a great time.

Except me.

Well, that’s not strictly true, I do usually have a really good time, but not a great time.

who needs to have a good time?

Of course, in the end, it doesn’t matter whether I have a good time or not. As long as the choir enjoy themselves and the audience has a good evening out and our standards remain high. It doesn’t matter what I’m feeling.

It is strange though how unpredictable my experience is.

I have had absolutely amazing, fantastic gigs where everyone has been firing on all cylinders, the audience have been fantastic and we all had a great time.

I have also had bad gigs where I’ve just not been in the mood, nothing seems to go right, and the choir don’t ever really gel.

We prepare the same each time, we put the work in, we don’t get complacent, and yet it is impossible to predict how we (as singers and choir leaders) will feel during the performance.

how can we gauge a performance?

Which reminds me of my days as a performer on the wilder fringes of the theatre world.

I could be totally prepared and really looking forward to a show, only to have a really bad time and end up feeling that the show had been rubbish that night. Yet afterwards in the bar audience members would tell me how fantastic it was, and other cast members would say they thought it was one of our best shows.

Then the other way round: I could feel that I was really flying, had never performed better, the connection between the performers would be electric, we’d never done the show so well, it was a triumph!! Only to come off stage to find a relatively empty bar, a lukewarm audience reception and fellow cast members drowning their sorrows in their beer and vowing to give up acting immediately.

It’s not so simple then. Even performers in exactly the same show can have completely different experiences.

nobody cares how you feel!

I came to the conclusion that it is actually irrelevant how you feel about a performance. All you can do is be prepared and do your best, then it is simply up to the audience to take it or leave it.

As far as singing concerts go, there are several other factors involved.

We always rehearse on the afternoon of the concert, so maybe I’m just too tired to enjoy the evening as fully as I might. Sometimes we have a cracking rehearsal, everyone’s relaxed, we have a bit of a laugh and the singing is wonderful. But come the evening and the nerves kick in (and they can see the audience in all their glory!) and perhaps the songs are not quite as good as they had been that afternoon. That just goes to show that we shouldn’t have expectations: be in the moment, the show will be what the show will be.

then there’s the audience

As a performer (and now a conductor) I am badly affected by an audience’s response (see last week’s post How audiences behave and how we respond).

We all want to be loved by the audience, we want to please them, we want them to think we’re the best thing they’ve ever heard, we want to see happy smiling faces lapping up every moment.

And often that is what happens, but there will always be a few audience members who are looking a bit tired or bored or both (even though they may be having the time of their life) and they are the only audience members I see and I start to think “They’re not enjoying it. They don’t like me. I’m not doing very well. I should give up and buy a shop”.

Then I start to doubt myself and perhaps the next song is a bit wobbly because I’ve taken my eye off the ball, which then spooks me a bit, which then means I might make a bigger mistake in the next song and so on. And all because perhaps a single audience member is not smiling enough!

choir leaders can’t see audience reactions

After one concert lots of choir members mentioned how smiley the audience had been. I was beginning to wonder whether we had been playing to the same audience when I realised that the choir see a different audience to the one that I do.

Why hadn’t I realised this before! When we are singing and the audience is smiling and enjoying themselves, I have my back to them and simply don’t see. Then when I turn round to announce the next song (or engage them with some so-called witty banter) they become serious because they’re concentrating and listening intently to what I’m telling them about some obscure Eastern European song about a red fez or handkerchief in a puddle.

So I’ve decided to commission a pair of wing mirrors like the ones the moods used to have on their scooters. I’ll put one on each shoulder, then whilst I’m conducting I can glance in the mirror to see the rapturous, smiling faces of the audience having the best time of their lives!


Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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