Monday, June 20, 2022

How your performance can be a disaster, but the concert a huge success

We had a concert recently where pretty much every song went wrong in some way.

Yet we ended up having a fantastic evening and the audience enjoyed it enormously. How is that possible?

I wrote recently about how singers’ big mistakes in performance usually go unnoticed by the audience. It’s very easy for us on stage to become focused only on what we’re doing and to beat ourselves up when things go wrong. Yet usually an audience won’t notice.

We bring with us to each performance an unspoken assumption about how the concert should go. How the songs should sound, how we should look, how the audience should respond.

There is an implicit understanding of the perfect rendition of each song, and the ideal concert. It’s something we aim for when rehearsing and we expect to realise it on the day of the performance. Anything less is somehow a failure.

I read a blog post recently about Letting go of perfectionism. In the post, Steve Grives (choral conductor and certified meditation teacher) tells a story of when a performance went wrong. After he realised that the concert could no longer be perfect:

“My body relaxed as if a great burden had been lifted from it. I seemed to be less self-conscious and more immersed in the music. Afterwards, I asked if anyone had heard the mistake, but no one did; the singers loved the experience, and my parents were very proud. And, for the first time in my career, I didn’t have a laundry list of critiques to share after the performance outside of that one mistake.”

He had let go of his perfectionism and found that liberated him in some way. It’s like when you make a mistake early in a concert and the audience visibly relax.

In our recent concert, pretty much every single song went badly wrong: timing, parts forgetting to come in, sections just stopping for no reason, harmonies dropping out as people ended up singing the tune, stepping out of time, forgetting the words, tuning, and so on.

But the evening was a success because all the singers had a fabulous time and were really grateful to me (even though they knew they'd got things wrong). The audience had happy faces, complimented us in the interval, clapped loudly and sang the song I taught them at the end.

So even though some of the singers beat themselves up a bit and I didn't have quite as much fun as usual, it was a successful concert. It brought the community together, and for that hour and a half, we forgot all the world’s troubles and were focused on beauty.

There is a quote (attributed to composer Charles Ives) to sum this feeling up:

“If a performance is perfect, something is wrong.”

Chris Rowbury


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