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“engaging” at Engagements

tomjensenIt occurred to me, after finishing my Tiny Tots– “Inside the Orchestra” run with the Junior Symphony Guild (we saw 8,000 kids), that we, as musicians, have a difficult time interacting with the audience after concerts. Over the years I have learned to elicit comments from shy and timid preschoolers with questions like: “What did you like the best (besides me)?”

And it is equally important talking to grownups after a performance as well. I remember being at a reception recently, observing musicians awkwardly looking for punch and cookies and making conversation with patrons. Now patrons want to talk to artists– and sometimes the intimidation factor can be offputting for them. They want to be a part of the discussion, but don’t want to appear to be ignorant of the art form. I remember an adult asking a bass player about his “cello.” He replied: “No, it’s a bass!” One might instead say: “Yes, it looks like a cello, but it is bigger, it is a bass.”

But more importantly, it is advantageous to make audience members feel good about themselves. We do have an adrenaline rush after a performance and may want to discuss our work, but it is important to realize and recognize the validation of the people who come to see and hear us work. So, in the spirit of things to think about the next time you are choking down a brownie after a show– try these out for size:

“So, you are new to the Philharmonic Board of Directors– how did you decide to become a part of our organization?” Or….

“Bruckner is pretty heavy stuff, this was my first time playing this piece– did you know this symphony before you came? What did you think of it?” Or…

“Thanks for the kind words about my contra bassoon solo “(substitute your instrument here). ” Usually nobody remarks about it– did you study a woodwind instrument, or are you a vacuum cleaner salesman?” Or…

“What did you think of the concerto? I loved the way she plays the end– it was really fast, a virtuoso moment.”

Adults like to be asked questions– not too hard, but talking points that draw them out– it may be a future donor with whom you are conversing… and that’s always important.

So next time you are exhausted after playing two hours of Strauss waltz offbeats on your viola, take a moment to think of a fun question to ask a person who paid to hear you perform– try not to focus on the carpal tunnel stuff going on in your neck and shoulder.

Remember, it’s “showbiz.”

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