If I only had a brain: Remembering your audience

We all have our Yellow Brick Roads. Today David and I, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, are on a journey of discovery: not through Kansas, but making our way south from Auckland to Wellington by train, traversing the length of New Zealand’s North Island. The scenery is staggeringly beautiful, yet as children of the modern age, we’re plugged into our laptops, only occasionally lifting our gaze to take in the surroundings. We’re certainly not making new friends on our journey. Yet at times like this I often think of the friends Dorothy made on her adventures – the lion, the scarecrow and the tin man. These characters, who yearn to be courageous, to think and to feel as humans do, steal my attention. So often, as we work with choirs around the world, I think singers identify with Dorothy, the explorer, but forget about her friends.

The choirs we teach are usually (and here’s me coining a new phrase) ‘score-perfect’. All the right notes in all the right places (you can thank me later, Meghan Trainor), perfect dynamics, crisp diction. And yet their performance falls flat. Their audience offers lacklustre applause. The choir is drained of its energy, and yet no one else is nourished by it. What happens? Surely the energy should go somewhere?

As singers in choirs, when we prepare for a concert, we talk about ‘giving’ a performance. But giving is a transitive action: you usually can’t give a thing without giving it to someone. And yet I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone use the phrase “tonight we’re going to give a performance to our audience.” It’s simply not part of our vernacular. It should be.

Concerts, like trans-island train journeys, should be voyages of discovery. We should be leading our audiences down paths they’ve never known before, fuelling them with new sounds and experiences. Our focus should always be on their journey, helping them to feel how we feel. And yet we’re always so focussed on how we’re feeling on the concert platform – managing our nerves, worried about the sounds we’re making – that we forget about the people who have paid to share the experience with us. The concert becomes an exercise in getting everything right, and not about enriching the lives of others. In doing so, we’re giving the audience a lot to see and to hear, but nothing to feel – perhaps save anxiousness on our behalf.

And so, when you’re taking an audience down your Yellow Brick Road over the course of a concert, please spare some thought for the friends of Dorothy. They yearn to be empowered by your confidence, stimulated by your thoughts and moved by your emotions. Allow these proverbial lions, scarecrows and tin men to be participants in your performance, and not just spectators. That way, you give them the best chance of acting, thinking and feeling as you do.

Read more KS editorials on the Ensemble Hub Dropbox.


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