Rapport depends on understanding, music and words alike
As a dedicated enthusiast for music of all sorts, I have strong preferences for how it ‘should’ be presented. To my mind it’s fine for those on stage to talk a little when they are playing short, popular pieces, but patter’n’perform holds little attraction for me when attending a formal classical concert. Words have their place, but only as an accessible (inexpensive) written programme note.
Information before the concert begins on the music about to be heard should not delivered by somebody standing from the platform. The spoken word introducing ‘serious’ music performances for me becomes an irritant, not an enhancement of what I hope to hear.
Recent research shows that others too have strong preferences, though not necessarily mine. And unsurprisingly, these preferences are connected with types / levels of exposure to different genres and presentations of music.
It can be hard [for young people / newcomers] to find a way in to classical music because it is often abstract and non-representational, and with no prior knowledge it can be difficult to relate to what you are hearing. Basic terms like “symphony”, “concerto” and “movement” are rarely explained in programmes, creating barriers to feeling at home in the concert hall.
But this research shows that if information is embedded in the concert format, pitched at the right level, and done in a way which creates a rapport with the players, a younger audience can really appreciate live classical music.
New attenders at classical concerts, says Melissa Dobson, felt excluded from the traditional audience modes of behaviour, and had no sense of how the performers contributed to it. In more relaxed settings however, they became more engaged in the performance and felt a rapport with the musicians.
There is sometimes when considering ‘classical’ music and new audiences the idea that the performers are aloof, or feel no need to include the audience in their world.
This view is typified in the Journal of New Music Research reference to ‘the ritualised performance described by Christopher Small (1998) in the influential book Musicking, in which performers ‘do not want their world to be too close to that of the audience; and individually and collectively, they guard jealously their privacy and their distance from the public’ (p. 73).‘
Perhaps such a view misses the point, insofar as it attributes knowingly negative motive to performers. It is difficult consciously to look ‘engaging’ whilst performing often challenging music in complete and demanding alignment with some 80 or 100 other musicians. The only ‘motive’ of most professional musicians whilst actually performing, is to deliver the highest possible quality performance. The musicians’ reputations, future employment and, importantly, self-regard do, when all is said and done, depend on how they deliver the product on the platform.
Context however can be a different matter. It’s how the music is wrapped up which will make the difference – straightforward opportunities to understand and anticipate the performance, unstuffy locations, but nonetheless respect for the skill of the performers.
Welcome and include
From personal experience of presenting ‘classical’ concerts, I know that unfussy printed programmes which indicate clearly the duration of (and number of breaks in) each piece of music are appreciated by new audience members, as is an initial welcome from the platform and a brief word at the start of each new item to tell everyone what it is, and who will be playing it.
(Applause at the end of each movement remains a debateable point – we usually either accept it may happen, or if genuinely more appropriate we ask that people wait till the end, in ‘x’ minutes’ time as indicated on the programme, and the musicians then ensure that the ‘gaps’ are as brief as possible: not a big deal as long as we can ensure no-one in the audience becomes anxious and embarrassed…)
The best attraction of all however seems to be the promise of tea and biscuits (or whatever…) with the musicians after the performance, when the performers can relax and chat informally with their audience.
It takes musicians comfortable in their skins to do this, and it’s not for everyone, but it works, where circumstances permit it to be done. No big fuss, just open and friendly, without attitude.
* Is there a wider lesson in this work on inclusion? Can we apply it to other circumstances too?
* Should we just accept that different people at different points in their experience of any given context – music, education, health services, or anything else – will prefer things done in different ways?
* And if this is so, is the really important thing to ensure the professionals concerned have the skills and confidence to adapt the contexts of delivery to the circumstances, with proper support from the organisations which provide the service in question?