The Importance of Being a Good Audience Member
By Dr. Kimberly Roberts
Every year, I hear music students complain about having to go see so many concerts – faculty recitals, classmate recitals, ensemble concerts, guest artist concerts, and the like. Then I see some of these same students text, write notes, or doodle throughout the program, and finally, have the audacity to list off all of the things they didn't like about the performance they just endured. This is not acceptable behavior for anyone that wants to make music their profession. Being a “good” audience member is a vital part of both the music making process and your journey as a professional musician.
Many musicians over the years have written about the three integral roles involved in a musical performance: the composer, the performer(s), the audience. If you have a composer and a performer, but no audience, all you have is a rehearsal; if you just have the composer and the audience, you just have an idea waiting for realization; and if you only have the performer and the audience you might as well be listening to a comedian. The point is, all three roles are of equal importance.
Think of when you have been the one on stage. What sort of things distracted you? Of course, the obvious things like cell phone lights and sounds, talking, and extraneous movement will stand out in your mind. But what about the not so obvious things – doodling, glaring, sleeping, looking bored, loud page turns. How did that behavior make you feel as the performer? How many times have you been angry at a fellow audience member for that behavior? How many times have you done those very things? It doesn't matter if you have had a long day, or if you just got into a fight with your friend, and it certainly doesn't matter if you don't like the person performing – your behavior negatively affects the performance and the experience of the other audience members around you.
We have all felt how a performance can be extra awesome because of a “great” audience. Because of that audience, everyone involved had a better show. What sort of behaviors make a “great” audience? For me, it is attentiveness, appropriateness of facial reactions, and appreciative applause. In your own solo performances, think about the facial expressions of your audience. When people have a pleasant look on their face and applaud firmly, you receive a confidence boost and feel better about the performance. When you see someone laughing to their neighbor or staring off into space you quickly lose confidence and you don't do as well.
The way we react to others' performances can also affect our own ability to perform effectively. I can't tell you the number of students I have seen sit in the Cold Lounge and pass judgement on their classmates' performances. These students get so wrapped up in critizing others that when their time comes to perform, they are paranoid and inhibited. They are sure that everyone in the audience is being as nasty about them as they are about others. Unfortunately, they are right - because of their public arrogance, people do judge those students' performances more harshly. This always leads to crippling performance anxiety, and more often than not, I see these students give up their goals of becoming a professional musician altogether.
Remember, no one is paying you to perform yet and none of you have degrees in this yet, so really, your opinion is stunted and often unecessary. Negative comments at the undergraduate level usually come from jealousy or a disappointment in one's own progress. All of you are on your own journey towards professional musicianship – help each other and support one another. What do you really gain by cutting down your peers? Just because you can point out deficiencies or inaccuracies doesn't mean that you will make it in this business. It does, however, mean you are a jerk, and people love to see a jerk fail in a public performance.
You have options in your recital attendance. By choosing to attend a concert or recital, you have accepted the responsibility of being a part of a performance. Do your part to make it a good performance.
Dr. Kimberly Roberts