How classical musicians can approach the concert-giving experience
*Welcome to The Musician's Mindset! I'm Katie, a certified life coach and flutist who helps musicians overcome performance anxiety and bring their best selves to the stage. I would love to talk to hear your stories about being a musician and what happens for you on stage. Click HERE and we’ll find some time to chat!*
A couple of weeks ago, I attended one of those big, epic stadium concerts and, y’all, it was MAGICAL. I had so much fun! Like, uninhibited, sing your heart out, raise your hands up and dance kind of fun. The kind of fun that I don’t access in my day-to-day life. The kind of fun that I now have a physical memory of and can revisit time and time again - where my heart rate increases and I get this dopey smile on my face.
Now, of course, this concert experience is designed differently than a classical music performance. But, there is tremendous value in unpacking a mountaintop experience like I had at this concert and see what can be applied to the classical musician’s work on the stage.
An exercise like this helps us empathize with our audience and imagine what kind of experience we’d like them to have in the hall. It allows us to move from the fear of judgement toward the joy of intentionally creating a special experience for the people gathered to hear us.
1. Be Gracious.
When I look back on performances where I was riddled with anxiety, I viewed the audience as “owning” the hall and I was a guest who needed to perform up to their standards. Even if it was a solo recital, and I was literally the reason that humans sat in the audience, I still felt like I had to prove my worth to them. Like I had to get their approval for my work on stage.
Let’s shift our mindset a bit, shall we? The hall is the YOUR house and you are the gracious host. And just like when you have friends over, you offer them drinks and introduce them to new people, you want to tend to the audience to make them feel cared for and welcomed.
They self-selected to be at your party, you don’t need to convince them of anything! They’re already All In. They’re excited and hopeful about the music they’re going to hear and the experience they’re going to have.
When you walk on stage graciously, with a mindset of being welcoming and inviting to all those souls in the hall, you immediately feel calmer. You understand that you have this amazing, beautiful gift to share and that you are going to weave together a beautiful moment for these fellow humans. They are your guests, who potentially traveled a long distance, and battled traffic and parking, so they could be with you and hear your music. Welcome them to your home with open arms!
2. Be Inclusive.
One of the most special parts of the big stadium concert was that I felt like I was an important piece of the experience for the band. I felt like I belonged and that something would be missing if I weren’t there. In this type of concert format, the audience had wristbands that lit up the stadium, we sang - especially when the band dropped out, we danced and cheered. There was a flow of energy between the audience and the band that created something completely unique.
In classical music, we have that same dynamic with our audience, it just looks a little different! It tends to be quieter and happens more internally, but the energy flow between performer and audience is the same. If you are able to communicate to your audience that their presence is as important as yours, they will feel valued and bought in to the music.
A couple of ideas to get your imagination started:
Use your body language to express your joy at seeing the audience. Big smiles, deep bows, eye contact.
Talk to your audience. You could welcome them from stage, you could do a post-concert Q and A, you could chat with them before or after the concert in the lobby. There is tremendous value in pushing through your own personal discomfort to help your audience feel included.
Personalize the program notes. Instead of writing a musicological essay on each piece, what if you talked to your reader about why you programmed the pieces and the parts you're most excited to share with them. Tell stories about the first time you heard and how it affected you. Create personal connection around this great music we’re privileged to play.
Experiment with concert formats. We are moving away from the stodgy, formal, traditional concert experience. It’s not serving the music, and it’s not serving our audiences. Be bold! Play in the aisle! Show a home video during a piece. Collaborate with a dancer or a visual artist. Consider how you can make the concert as rich and as full for the audience as possible.
3. Be YOU.
We’ve all been to parties where the host was an anxious mess, apologizing for their home not being perfect, so worried about the appearance of the things that the people get a bit lost. That happens to us as performers, too.
But, my dear musician, you are perfect just the way you are! In all your glorious imperfection. Whether you are extroverted and bold or introverted and quiet, you are enough. You don’t have to pretend, you simply need to be YOU.
When I say Be YOU, I don’t mean the nervous you, right? I mean the truest you - the you that you are with your mom or your best friend. The you that feels like you belong in your skin and that makes music from a place of confidence and freedom.
When you shift your mindset on stage to being gracious, to being inclusive, to being YOU, everything comes together for the audience and you cocreate an experience that you all will remember.
As a life coach for musicians, this type of mindset shift is exactly what I work on with my clients. I’d love to talk with you (yes YOU!! The beautiful human reading this article) and hear your stories about being a musician and what happens for you on stage. Click the link below and we’ll find some time to chat. I’d love it.
Next Steps and Additional Resources
Here at The Musician's Mindset, we have some incredible resources for developing and implementing mindset practices that will transform how you perform on stage.
Founder of The Musician's Mindset
Katie is a certified life coach dedicated to helping musicians overcome stage fright and believe in their own unique artistic voice. She believes live classical music is a powerful antidote for the division, pain, and loneliness pervasive in the culture and strives to support all artists to confidently share their work with the world. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband, three kiddos, a dog, a snake, and a goldfish named Orca.