Laurie's Violin School: Being an Engaged, Supportive Audience

January 5, 2015, 11:52 AM · If you are a student participating in a studio recital, your job is to give your best performance. But you have a second job, and it's very important: to be part of an engaged audience, in support of your fellow students and their work. This also goes for your parents and any friends or fans who have come to see the recital on your behalf.

Certainly, your performance, which is likely the culmination of months (and really, years) of practice and work, will command most of your energy and attention. But your role as an audience member is extremely important.

Here are the basics: Plan to stay for the entire recital, to see everyone's performance. Listen actively. Show support with your applause. Plan to hang around a bit after the recital, congratulating your fellow students (or your child's fellow students). Pay one another truthful and thoughtful compliments. Foster collegiality in what ways you can. You might have to cancel the soccer game on recital day to commit time to this, but if you miss this, you miss a unique way exercise a kind of citizenship and arts appreciation that should go along with learning to play well.

I ask my students to be looking for how they can compliment their peers after the recital: think of at least one truthful thing that you can say, which is good about their playing. "Good job!" is nice, but weak. "What a straight bow arm, well-done!" is a real compliment. Or "I'd never heard that piece, but you made me enjoy it." Or, "Your spiccato has improved so much in the last year!" In fact, sometimes I have students practice this, in the more casual setting of group class. We'll have 10 minutes at the end of class, where people can play a little solo, on condition that everyone in the room has to produce a thoughtful remark. And I do critique the thoughtful remarks; if someone says, "Good job!" I'll insist, "What made it a good job?"

Of course, sometimes there are more critical remarks to be made, but I don't think a final performance is the time for negative remarks. But if trained well and given a safe environment, young students can learn to offer each other constructive criticism. I have had very, very young students, after doing this complimenting thing for a while, gently tell each other things in class like, "If you played closer to the bridge, it would sound better." And then the student's response, "You are right, I have a hard time with that." Somehow, when you are both the recipient and giver of comments, you tend to frame the words more kindly and delicately, even when you are seven years old. Chalk it up to the Golden Rule!

Cultivating a supportive-audience attitude does take some training and attention.

One incident made me realize that I needed to teach not only violin-playing, but audience etiquette to both my students and their parents. It was the very first recital for two new students, young girls who were good friends at school. During the recital, the girls were sitting together in an aisle, giggling, and one of the parents started taking pictures of them, giggling so adorably while another child was taking the stage! I actually had to interrupt the course of the recital to go over to the parent and quietly point out, "This is actually a recital for all the students here. I need you to stop taking pictures and set an example as an audience member, and also encourage the girls to watch and listen." I sensed that the parent was suddenly awakened, he simply had been caught up in his own child and had been impervious to the other students, their work, their nervousness, the importance of this for them. The good news is that after that, those parents and students were some of the best-behaved of the bunch.

How can you, or your child, be a good audience member? How can you listen deeply? And after the recital, instead of just grabbing a cookie and rushing to the next activity (or the worst, leaving early, without listening to others) consider talking to three or four other students, telling them what you enjoyed about their performance. Or telling their parents what you enjoyed. Together, you can cultivate this supportive attitude within a community of students at any level (it's important at college, too!).

I'll leave you with one more thought: even at the highest level, the best musicians tend to be those who also sit in the audience and listen to others.

Participants in the Menuhin Competition applaud one another last spring

Last spring I attended the Menuhin Competition in Austin, Texas, and I noticed that, even while having to give so many high-level performances themselves, these young musicians made time to sit in the audience and watch their colleagues. Many of them spoke about doing so in previous competitions, and they had nothing but the highest praise for their fellow competitors -- their fellow musicians. Both winners told me, "I learned so much, watching everyone else!"

Music is a collaborative art, and live music is nothing without live ears listening to it. It's easy to get caught up in one's own work and to stop listening. Don't! Instead, find those opportunities be part of a live audience, to listen and seek out the best in your fellow students and colleagues.


January 5, 2015 at 06:40 PM · My heavens Laurie, you seem to be suggesting that there may be students who have less than perfect performances. :)

Seriously I think that your efforts to help student find something constructive to say are good ideas. Students need frankness and candor from their teachers and parents and kindness and honest affirmation from their peers.

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