Ever had to talk to an audience from the stage?

Some musicians work hard at this part of their performance, others would rather crawl in a hole and die.  I used to fall squarely into the latter category, but I worked at it and got myself to the point of being pretty comfortable.

Since I know how much work it takes, I scheduled a seminar on public speaking for our composition department last week.

The timing wasn’t a coincidence: the seminar was held three days before four of my students were having new works performed by our orchestra.

In the seminar, three of them got up and talked about their music.  We set it up like the real deal, gathering in the hall where the orchestra concert would take place and using the PA system.  Our coach, Rebecca Nussbaum, critiqued the students, helping them strategize about how to remove filler words like “um” from the proceedings, what to do with their hands, how to get the audience feeling comfortable and on their side.

The results were impressive.  The three coached students talked about their music fluently and engagingly on Saturday, even getting compliments afterwards about their stage savvy.

The fourth student, who is quite charming, intelligent and gifted, but who had been unable to attend the seminar because of another commitment, came across more awkwardly, his posture and demeanor putting the audience ill at ease – in a way that reminded me of myself at that age.

Now I have no problem with people who feel that a polished performance in speaking is somehow untrue to who they really are.  That’s their choice.

But it should be about choice, and real choice is made from knowledge, not ignorance.  In other words, get some coaching on how to do it right, then choose your approach accordingly.

Does that, um, make sense?

Today we have supercool composer David Smooke coming in for a seminar, then a performance by Dark in the Song featuring works by Smooke, Amy Beth Kirsten, Moon Young Ha, Christopher Dietz, Michael Torke and Jacob TV. Spring rolls on.

3 Responses to “Talking to the Audience”
  1. Kyle Gann says:

    Hi Lawrence – and amen. Some composers just aren’t good at talking to an audience, and that shouldn’t be held against them. But every single composer should give some thought to what could be said to a general audience, and giving young composers some training in it is a fantastic idea. Most non-musicians feel insecurity if not anxiety when faced with new music, and a significant portion of the population responds more readily to words than to music. Many people truly want to be told how to hear it, and start to get the idea if told. If we, in general, can’t stand up and tell a group of interested non-musicians why our music is important to us – as well as write music that has the potential to be important to them as well – then we will deserve all the marginalization this society can dish out.

  2. Lawrence Dillon says:

    Thanks, Kyle. I should have mentioned that Rebecca, our coach, is a founding member of the contemporary ensemble Origins, a former member of the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra, artistic director of the multidisciplinary ensemble ODE, and an award-winning public speaker.

    She also happens to be my wife, but the fact that she would marry a composer shouldn’t be held against her.

  3. Kyle Gann says:

    I admire those who are willing to bestow their charitable acts on composers.

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