What's the point? Why play music?
What's the point? Why do we play music? We musicians need to ask ourselves these questions more often. Yo-yo Ma recently raised this question in an interview, and the long and short of his answer was that "music is a service. Music was invented because it does something to create community." We're with you, Yo-yo.
Of course this doesn't mean that we should "offer" our work for free willy-nilly, starving ourselves in the process. I don't think that's what he was getting at, and I hope people don't take "go out there and work for free" to be his central message (more on that in a later article, perhaps). I think what he's saying is that it's not only about the music.
Okay, yes, of course it's about the music. Most musicians I know were drawn to the art form, not the business. Let's be real. We like to get paid properly for our work, but we're not doing it to get rich, and most people aren't in it for the power or the glory. There is something intrinsically valuable about making music, and also about listening to it. But what is that "something" that we can't put our finger on?
Maybe we can put our finger on it after all.
All art is a form of communication, and we communicate in order to connect with others. Whether we're reading a novel to connect with an author who points out truths in new ways; whether we're looking at a painting that seems to draw us into a different world; whether we're listening to a choral work that seems to connect us with something larger than ourselves, some form of connection is taking place. Art makes us bigger than ourselves.
Why does that matter to a concert presenter? Well, actually, I think it's the most important aspect of what we do as musicians. We do what we do in order to bring people together. With live concert music, we gather people together in the same room (connection), share an emotional experience through listening (connection again), and if it's a truly special performance, we feel like we're approaching something higher than ourselves. Call it "being moved," call it "energy," call it "transcendence"--it's all a form of connection.
It falls to us as artists and presenters to figure out how to communicate and connect in a powerful way. And I think it's time we start to think of these aspects of the concert experience as essential, not as perks or add-ons.
Here are a few of things we do to enhance the sense of connection at Pocket Concerts:
1. Make it personal. As much as possible, we get to know the hosts and audience members on a personal level. This makes the experience more meaningful from start to finish, not only for the audience, but also for the performers.
2. Tell a story.Whether it's about why you love the music you're playing, a funny anecdote about the composer's life, or just a story about your life, stories make the music more relatable and more memorable.
3. Elicit an emotional reaction before you play. Whether it's laughter or nostalgia, "sharing a moment" opens people up to a more powerful listening experience. It can be as simple as making yourself look silly and getting a giggle from a few people, or inviting people to think about an important moment or person in their lives.
4. Play (or sing) your heart out, and encourage the audience to meet you halfway. Remember that the audience is there to listen, share an emotional experience, and to enjoy themselves, not to judge you. If we don't pour our hearts into what we do, we all lose out on a a tremendous opportunity to connect on an emotional level.
5. Stay in touch. When the concert is over, the work has just begun. We work hard to stay in touch with our audiences through our mailing list, social media platforms, personal thank-you emails and cards, special events for our hosts, musicians, and our biggest fans. This back-and-forth communication reminds people that they are participants in the music-making, not just consumers. Every personality in the room adds something to a live concert experience. In fact, our community is the lifeblood of what we do, and and we can't take that for granted.
Here are a few questions that we keep in mind before, during, and after our concerts:
What is the audience getting out of the experience?
How can we enhance the listening experience without compromising the music?
How can we create a concert environment in which people let their guard down and let the music affect them emotionally?
How can we make it clear to people that by listening, they become part of the performance? How can we encourage active listening?
What aspect of the music is meaningful to me and to the audience? How can I illuminate that?
On a grander scale, what's the point? Why perform?
I'd love to hear what your answers are to these questions. Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org your comments!
To read the article with Yo-yo Ma's advice, click here.