Monday, June 06, 2022

Singers’ big mistakes in performance usually go unnoticed by the audience

A choir concert is never 100% perfect. There are usually one or two minor errors, or even big mistakes.

photo by Alex Proimos

But what might feel like a huge disaster on stage is often not noticed by your audience.

Singers usually know when they’ve gone wrong. It might be a missed cue, a forgotten lyric, or an incorrect starting note. To an individual singer this can feel like a huge and obvious mistake. Surely everyone in the audience has noticed? What an embarrassment!

However, in a choir of 30 or more singers, one small transgression is usually difficult to spot. The whole effect is greater than the sum of its individual parts.

Occasionally a whole section may come in at the wrong time or get the starting note wrong. And from time to time, the entire choir may make a mistake, e.g. everyone stops singing prematurely or gets the timing totally wrong.

Unless it’s a very well-known piece, the audience won’t know what to expect. Perhaps that false ending was how it was supposed to finish. Or that weird chord might have been intentional. Or the unusual timing was just a very clever and complex example of polyrhythm.

In which case, the audience won’t notice. The singers will because they know how the piece should go. But not the audience.

Even if some in the audience spot something ‘wrong’, it’s usually over in a few seconds and is but a small part of the whole song. Which in turn is but a small part of the whole concert. The audience will forget most mistakes by the time the concert is ends.

I’ve discovered over the years that getting the choir to make a big mistake early on can be a distinct advantage. For example, giving out the wrong starting notes or counting a song in incorrectly. The audience visibly relax and realise that the singers on stage are human after all. For the rest of the concert they are with us, willing us to succeed.

I once saw a play where the stage lights all went out during one scene. The actors carried on in darkness as though nothing had happened. The lights remained off for several minutes. At the end of the show, I realised that most of the audience hadn’t even noticed the blackout!

So singers, don’t beat yourself up when something goes wrong in performance. It’s not the end of the world, and probably nobody noticed any way.

Of course, just because audiences may not notice our mistakes on stage, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t aim for 100% accuracy in our performance. We will never achieve it, but aiming is what counts.

Chris Rowbury


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