Performers spend long hours preparing for the moment when house lights dim and the audience becomes quiet. Although eager to perform many players walk on stage and appear ill at ease, even before the first notes are played. They miss the opportunity to connect with the audience because of their apprehension and lack of confidence. Early on singers are trained in stage demeanor creating a vivid impression on an audience, but few instrumentalists receive training in this area. Music lovers attend concerts rather than listen to C.D.s at home because concert performances offer the excitement of unexpected, spontaneous interaction among the musicians onstage. Because many audience members enjoy watching performers as much as listening to the music, performers should learn communication skills that create a favorable visual impression.
Well in advance of recitals or competitions, teachers should acquaint students with the physical and mental skills of good stage deportment. Groups of students can practice stage entrances, exits, and bowing, and exchange comments. A video camera can be helpful during these rehearsals. Students will begin to feel comfortable in front of an audience when these movements become second nature. Performers should walk onstage at a pace that is neither hurried nor deliberate, smiling naturally and making eye contact immediately with the audience. Standing tall they should feel themselves being reeled onstage by an imaginary pulley with its rope attached to the top of their breastbones. Confident posture generates confident performance and also projects good preparation. If there is a stage manager to put the music on the stand, it will reduce awkwardness during the entrance.
The art of taking a bow is an essential part of stage deportment. A gracious bow is unhurried and reaches out to the audience. Performers should count to three slowly while bending forward, meanwhile remembering that too deep a bow will look awkward. The top of a performer’s head should be visible to the audience. Be sure to step away from the music stand to take a bow. Ensembles should bow after all players have reached their places. In a woodwind quintet formation, the flutist and clarinet should step well to the side so that the oboist and bassoonist are visible to the audience.
Unless a piece is unaccompanied, performers should tune after bowing. If playing with piano they can rotate slightly toward the pianist for a tuning note, remembering not to tum their backs to the audience, which is rude and makes the tuning process seem embarrassing or secretive.
When the music is forgotten, audiences will remember the physical demeanor of a soloist just as sports fans notice athlete’s behavior throughout a game. Whether standing or sitting, musicians should maintain an erect, flexible posture while onstage. Lessons in the Alexander Technique can help to develop physical awareness, freedom, and upward direction.
Performers should stay calm and focused in the moment, resisting urges to dwell on missed notes or cracked attacks. Conversation about any unexpected glitches that occur will interfere with concentration. Actors learn to remain serene despite any unexpected or momentary annoyances, and musicians should do the same because complete preparation develops a good mental image and confidence. These strategies are a powerful formula for easing nervousness or performance anxiety.
At the end of a performance the players respond to applause with a warm smile but without mouthing a thank you, which looks strange. Be sure to acknowledge the pianist, and both should bow, exit the stage briskly, and return promptly for a curtain call when the applause is strong. It is best to leave music onstage and have the stage manager retrieve it after the applause has ended.
Plan stage exits and returns carefully when performing several pieces in succession. The audience appreciates a brief pause between lengthy works, and a pause gives the players a moment to prepare for the next piece. While offstage performers should avoid making any noise that is audible to the audience, and post-mortem discussions are taboo because this is a time to remain focused and mentally prepare for the next piece.
Before a performance, chamber ensembles should discuss group choreography and decide who will lead the group on and off the stage, who will lead the bows, and where to stand for curtain calls. The musician with the farthest distance to walk usually enters first, and the last to arrive onstage usually exits first. Groups should form a line and bow behind the chairs for curtain calls rather than returning to a performance formation. For second curtain calls it may work well for the ensemble to form a line in front of their chairs near the edge of the stage.
Before performances the musicians should rest and eat lightly. Concentration and coordination will suffer without sufficient sleep the night before, and in some people too much sugar or caffeine causes unpleasant mental and physical side effects.
Concert attire, hair style, and talking to the audience are also important considerations. It is particularly important for female players to choose concert attire that will not inhibit breathing or bowing. Ensemble members will want to coordinate color choices so that listeners don’t have to cope with a brilliant orange dress next to shocking pink. Solid colors are preferable to polka dots and wild prints, which will soon tire the eyes of any audience. Although concert clothing should be stylish and attractive, it should not distract from the music. Even concert shoes may be a problem if they squeak or the heels are too high, and hair that falls into a performer’s face is distracting.
These days classical musicians struggle to attract and build audiences, but performers who share their excitement about the music with an audience will do well. Musicians should take time to learn about the composers and pieces on their concert program, and then relay some of this information to their audiences. Listeners generally appreciate this gesture and as a result feel more connection to both the music and the performers.
Musicians perform because they love to play, and it’s important for an audience to sense a performer’s passion for music. Any musician who talks confidently and exuberantly onstage to share the joy of music will be recognized as a performer who truly owns the stage.
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