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It's about the audience – Lesson #3

So I’ve been thinking about performers versus artists, as I play “Ring of Fire”, here in Charlottetown PEI. Each night I see those kids go out and sing and dance their hearts out with such enthusiasm and dedication! It’s unfathomable really, for a guy like me. How do they do it? They just can’t be that dedicated to this music – it was popular decades before they were born, and is not particularly popular now. I don't think I could pull it off night after night. But then again I will play my heart out on a piece of classical music I loathe, because it’s my job. I’d prefer to not to have to, but I do - there it is.

Yeehaw! Look at those dancers go!

So the definition I propose is: When you’re told to express something you may or may not believe in, you’re a “performer”; and when you express something because you need to, you’re an :artist". Simplistic I know, but a start.

So you might think that an audience doesn’t make a difference to an artist? Well performers are doing something they don’t have to be as invested in, (so they have less to lose?) yet they may be performing for an audience that IS invested in the product. They may just love the music of Johnny Cash! But artists, they’re taking all the risk, pouring their deepest feelings into the void. Sounds scary. Perhaps they don’t need an audience at all; maybe it would be safer to just express ourselves in private? Perhaps.

But I, and many other musicians, think audiences play a deeper role in what we do. All performers feel and feed off the energy that an audience provides. It becomes “game day”, all our senses are heightened as the risks increase. I especially notice my listening optimizes when the audience, and risk is present. But another factor is more ephemeral: There is something else that an audience, especially an audience at a free improvised music concert, creates: They offer an energy that becomes part of the music; and in spontaneous music that exists only in an instant, that energy can make or break the music!

I know certain of my friends dislike this image, but I still think it illustrates an audience and performer as one! 

An example: On tour with Lee Pui Ming and Erin Donovan this past March (see my postings on this tour, in the archives), we decided to take advantage of Pui Ming’s work in craniosacral therapy to inform a suit of pieces. We focused on predetermined parts of our bodies, as we played. Pui Ming gave us clear direction as to the characteristics of each body part, and we used that information as a score for our pieces. When performing, we invited the audience to join us in contemplating these areas, and Pui Ming gave them the same information we were given. The results were wonderful: We experienced a real connection to the audience, and conversely, the audience experienced a connection to the music they didn’t expect! I feel like this is where we expressed ourselves the most. It’s always clearer for the person your sharing with to know what you’re sharing…..Not absolutely necessary, mind you, but clearer.

So audience members: you are part of the music, you inform the music making of creative musicians more than you may know.

But don’t take it from me, check out this paper from Guelph University, one of the important academic think tanks for improvisation.

Aug 13, 2012 at 13:45

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