In a recent performance, the magic just wasn’t happening.The silent power of the audience

“Tough crowd!…They hate it!…Who’s going to make the next mistake? Me?…I’d better play it safe.”

It ended on a muted note of frustration for me—an inspired performance had been within our grasp.

So who’s to blame—the tough crowd or us?

To find out, I did an experiment with my choir:

A small ensemble went out of the room. Those of us in the room agreed to listen in 2 dramatically different modes:

First, to silently criticize as much as possible.

Second, to silently enjoy as deeply possible.

The ensemble came back in the room. They were told that the audience would use those two modes, but were not told which one would be first. The audience sat poker-faced as the ensemble sang through  a 40-second section.

The first time (audience criticizing), the ensemble simply sounded off. I even sang with them, and noticed how difficult it was to blend. Other singers felt barriers between themselves and the other singers.

The second time (audience enjoying), everything improved. It simply sounded better. The ensemble easily identified the order of the audience’s listening modes.

Could it simply have improved from repetition?

To find out, I had a different group go out. We decided to switch the order, enjoying then criticizing.

This time the group sounded great the first time, and off the second. They even admitted it.

I then had the chance to do this with the Pacific Youth Choir, with the same results. Further experiments need to be done—so intriguing!

But before you go blaming the energy of the audience, here are 5 non-musical ways to bolster your performance in the moment:

1. Refuse to dwell on mistakes.

The overwhelming tendency of classical musicians is to apologize. We’re trained to cringe at our own mistakes. Save the pity party for…well, never. Just practice more. No shame required.

2. Breathe.

By taking in full relaxed breaths you will reset the stress levels of your body and allow yourself to venture out of your “playing it safe” mode.

3. Use your will power to LIFT.

Infuse more upward flowing energy into your playing. Sometimes it’s not the outward passion—grow a backbone, get in your spine, and lift yourself UP.

4. Use the positive energy of others.

Somewhere on stage, someone is having an awesome night. Even if they are across the stage from you, tune in to them, and try to use their positive influence to ignite positivity within you.

5. Look for one smile in the audience.

And in the worst case scenario, mentally put your best supporter, teacher, or friend front and center. Play or sing to them. Works wonders for me.

For further reading, I highly recommend this article by a dear friend.

Who’s at Fault—Performer or Audience?

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