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HOW TO BOW WITHOUT LOOKING LIKE A TOTAL DORK

Posted on March 25, 2012 at 4:05 PM

We bow to thank the audience for their applause and our audiences applaud because they appreciate what we do. Both are important to a performance and both should be genuine and happen with grace.


As a musician, I hate applause if I didn’t deserve it. I just want to stop the audience and say, “Look, I’m sorry, but that was a particularly (insert naughty word for “bad”) performance.” However, our society has developed so that it is inappropriate not to applaud at the end. So, they’re gonna do it and you’re gonna like it. Now the trick is to convince the audience that they just experienced a stupendous performance (no matter how it actually went).


Step 1: Smile.


Musicians don’t do nearly enough of this in my opinion. I mean, seriously. We’re not grumpy emo teenagers anymore, are we? (Well, maybe some of us are, but you have to pretend like you’re not). When the piece ends, smile. In fact, make it a HUGE smile that could be seen from the back row of Carnegie. Show the pearly whites! Don’t fake smile (known in the theatre world as “mugging”), because the front row will see that. Just smile.


Step 2: Bow. This can be tricky. If you’ve got an instrument, you have to negotiate the mechanics of holding the thing, any non-attached accoutrements (i.e. a bow), music stands, chairs, etc.


First of all, if you’re sitting, stand up. You look lazy if you bow sitting down.


If you have a stand in front of you, take a small step to the side so you can bow into open air. It doesn’t need to be a gigantic step. Just a step to give you some room.


For percussionists, don’t hide behind your set-up. Just like with music stands, step out from your hidey-hole, give us a smile and bow. Here’s a video of an awkward percussion bow and a good percussion bow.




For string players, you have to negotiate your bow. Many folks put both instrument and bow in the same hand while some folks have their instrument in one hand and the bow in the other. Whatever you decide to do, make sure your bow doesn’t go flailing behind you. A friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) does the bow flail and it looks aaaaawkward


For folks who play big things (ex: tuba, cello, bass, bassoon, etc), I encourage you to find a way to bow with your instrument so you can bow through your back – not just your neck. I’ve seen many big instrument players bow from their neck because their instrument is in front of them. This doesn’t convey as much of an air of appreciation as a full back bow. Here’s a video of a neck bow and a genuine bow from behind a bass.




Most importantly, get comfortable in your own skin. If you feel awkward, you’re going to look awkward. Perhaps like this:




However, by practicing your bow in front of a video camera and becoming comfortable with the action and how you look, the effect will be significantly different. This is how I bow:




A big thank you to Greg Jukes and Greg Olson for allowing me to video their bows!



Stay tuned for next week's entry, APPLAUSE HAPPENS, where I discuss.... well... applause.

Categories: Stage Presence, Aware, Genuine

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3 Comments

Reply Hilary Abigana
1:10 PM on April 1, 2012 
@ Brett - good point! Remember that you're acknowledging the applause, not applauding for yourself!

@ Cassie - Bow timing is very important. You don't want to short change and rush your bow or you'll look nervous. However, if you hang out in the bow for too long, people think you're arrogant. It's definitely a fine line to walk and your idea with your shoe laces seems to do the trick! Regarding attire, I'll be covering that topic soon and you BET I'll talk about low tops!!
Reply Cassie
7:57 AM on April 1, 2012 
In theater productions, I always was taught to say 'Are my shoes tied?' - take a good glance at your shoes (laces or not) and then 'Yes they are' for the perfect bow length. It has never steered me wrong.

Ooh and also! If you're well endowed in the chest and are wearing a low cut top, be conscious of it as you bow. Don't let the girls fall out
Reply Brett
9:41 AM on March 27, 2012 
If I can add one more hint: don't clap for yourself while bowing. This happens a lot with composers. It's fine to clap for the ensemble THEN bow. But don't do both simultaneously. It's bad enough when composers do it, but I've seen performers to it. And it's awkward, arrogant, and just plain dumb-looking. I'll get off my soap-box now.

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