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Strings Music Festival: The secret to a great performance

Wendy Chen will play at Strings Music Festival on Wednesday.
071414_Strings

The secret to a great performance is a great audience.

Of course, it’s not a guarantee, and the building blocks have to be there to start with — fantastic musicians, good sound in the hall, dynamic lighting. But the audience can raise the bar from good to great.

And I’m not just blowing smoke up your ticket-buying seat-sitters.



Some people will tell you that there is a mystical connection between the audience and the performer, a sort of circular energy exchange where intensity and nuance reflect from the stage to the seats and back. I don’t know about that. Maybe it’s true, maybe not. What I do know is that the magic of live performance lies in the “live” part.

While it might seem that a string quartet onstage is focused only on their sheet music and on one another, I promise you that they can see and hear the audience very well.



The same goes for the rock ‘n’ roll drummer banging away at the rear of the stage and for the bluegrass singer trilling into the microphone with her eyes closed.

They know immediately when their performance isn’t capturing your attention — they see arms crossed and glances at phones, they hear murmurs planning late-night happy hour. The musicians know they’re not nailing it, which throws their concentration and ensures they will continue to not nail it. The audience isn’t responsible for the suck factor, they’re just responsible for letting the musicians know that it’s there.

But performers also know right away when they’ve drawn you in.

They can feel when the audience is holding its breath to hear that last, quivering note fade away into the night before it erupts into applause.

Just as much as cheers and screams after an awesome guitar solo, body postures and facial expressions tell the musicians that they’ve successfully reached the collective psyche of the crowd.

A truly engaged audience is an additional performance element that no rehearsal can prepare for, but it makes a good performance immeasurably better. Those moments are what the musicians play toward, and when they happen, they really can be like magic.

This week, Strings has several opportunities for the audience to help make a good performance great:

• Tuesday, Youth: Barry G

• Wednesday, Classical: Wendy Chen on Steinway D

• Thursday, Music on the Green: Ping

• Friday, Different Tempo: Rockapella

• Saturday, Crossover: Turtle Island Quartet

If you’re wondering what you need to do to be a great audience member, Strings’ recording engineer, Jamey Lamar, said that it’s really quite simple: “Strip away the mystique and just listen. Be present.”

Good advice, Jamey, for more topics than just this one.

Ali Mignone is the stage manager for Strings Music Festival.


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