Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Connecting with Listeners In Performance

Here is an insightful post about musicians connecting with their audience. It was written by Dan, a jazz piano instructor and French translator. His blog is:

Connecting with listeners both many and few...
A huge problem I have is watching live piano recitals where the pianist seems to be in a world of his own. Some might say this is a good thing, because he is 'channeling' his ideas and will be distracted if he keeps thinking about his audience. Whilst this is true in itself, it's not exactly what I am referring to. Having ways to play your best is one thing... having an awareness of your audience's emotions and expectations is another. It makes no sense to play a wonderfully passionate piece of music, techncially brilliant with all the most complicated fingerwork that took you years to learn, only to find that your audience are falling alseep; impressing must be done at the right moment. You need to create a musical rollercoaster for them. Rollercoasters do not begin as utterly vomit-inducing thrills and spills, they begin with an increase in altitude, a sudden drop and increase in speed, a sharp turn, a spin, a bit of straight-line travelling with the much anticipated sudden turn skywards. They usually finish with a somewhat 'gentle' deceleration before the thrill-seekers disembark. Let's apply this to more humanistic performance.

1. Be aware of what kind of emotions your music evokes. If you are improvising, you have more control over how the music sounds; play lots of Major 9 chords for romance and even tear-jerking responses, maybe some 13ths for happy-sounding bouncy Jazz. You could bring in the mM9's for slower movements to really grab their attention (Cry Me a River, for example)

2. Be aware of your repertoire and its components' powers. My Jazz repertoire is quite large, so I have a lot to choose from. Why would I go to a café in the summer where people are sitting outside enjoying themselves, and play a slow, sad version of Moonlight in Vermont, or Somewhere Over the Rainbow? The audience do not want this and will not appreciate the emotional chord changes involved - you will become invisible and pointless for 5-10 minutes whilst you play such music. Why not a nice bouncy version with a little bit of blues scale thrown in with a nice rendition of Ain't Misbehavin'... or A Fooggy Day? It makes much more sense.

3. Be aware of who is watching you and what they represent in musical terms. When I play, I look around (if I can). When I finish or am about to close a song, I eye up as many people as possible. I learn who is paying more attention and begin to build a profile about those people. Are they young couples? Is the girl dressed beautifully, representing a special evening with her partner? Is there a birthday party for a 90 year-old lady? Indeed, I once eyed up a gentlemen with his wife who had clearly just come out for a nice evening meal after sundown (cue lushious jazz chords and Moonlight in Vermont/Somewhere Over the Rainbow!) and who was enjoying me by leaning on his elbow, somewhat mystified by my melodies. Catching his glance whilst not making it too obvious, I got out the more 40's sounding Gershwin sound; block chords, not so much effort on keeping time, rather, playing how the feeling took me, not too many complicated chords; just nice 7's and m7's and not too hard on the blues scales - just the occasional minor 3rd to 3rd grace note. Some more elegantly melodic songs came out which were not too romantic but just pleasant to listen to: Misty, The Nearness of You, April in Paris, etc... middle-of-the-road numbers. He was so thrilled at the end and thanked me greatly - I wonder if he would have done the same if I had bashed out some stronger-sounding numbers or more heavy jazz chord-style songs? Perhaps, but not as much as with my carefully selected numbers.

4. Think about how to introduce and end your song. Going straight into a song is quite unprofessional and very simple. You're a Jazz pianist - or at least a performing pianist with a good repertoire - show your skill! All you need to do to get an idea of introducing a song is listening to absolutely anything that Oscar Peterson plays. Head on over to YT and you'll see what I mean. The same goes for endings. On a more personal note, however, listeners do appreciate a nice introduction. For the more attentive listeners, it keeps them interested, wondering what you will play next. Ending a song must be an extension of what you just played. Granted, some songs require a somewhat sudden ending, but where possible, try to embellish the chords and mix the melody of the song into broken arpeggio chords. It may only be a 6 2 5 1 turn-around, but mixing in a double-time version of the melody as you play such a left-hand broken chord ascending pattern sounds very pleasant.

That will be all for this blog. If you combine these words with my other posts, I see no reason why your playing, for large or small numbers, will not improve drastically. Just don't be one of those piano players who plays because they 'can' impress an audienc and not because they 'want' to impress an audience. It makes you a better musician on many, many levels.

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