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SPEAKING FROM THE STAGE

Posted on May 6, 2012 at 2:40 PM

I highly encourage everyone to speak during their performances. Speaking during the performance creates a connection between performer and audience and the stronger the connection, the better the performance will feel for all parties. In addition, by breaking that “fourth wall” (the invisible wall at the front of the stage separating the audience from the stage action), you bring the audience into your world and because this seems to be a rare occurrence in performances, audiences simply love it. That covers why you should talk, so let’s move on to what you should say.


Not everyone wants to read the program notes, because sometimes the notes can be too analytical for a non-musical audience (for example: “If one concept must be grasped, it is this - the ultra-polyrhythmic counterpoint always layers the intervals, and it must do so entirely simultaneously. This composition performs all sorts of pieces, before exploring somewhat ultra-semantically, and finishing with an extremely anti-12-tone series of 'tempo-challenges' [as I like to call them].”*) And sometimes audience members arrive too late to read the notes before the lights go down. At any rate, this is an opportunity to tell your audience what you get from the piece. Is it one of your favorite pieces? Why? Is the piece a standard in your instrument’s repertoire? Does it have an interesting story? Does the composer have an interesting story or connection to you? You get the idea. Make it personal and humanizing. Now, let’s move on to who should speak.


If you’re performing a solo recital, then you should do all the talking. It’s your gig and your responsibility. If this is a chamber ensemble concert with one group playing multiple pieces, then everyone should speak (or as many as possible). The gig is a shared responsibility and the speaking should be as well. For chamber ensemble concerts with multiple groups playing one piece each, choose the strongest speaker. There just isn’t time to get everyone to speak in this type of situation. Orchestra concerts should obviously be the conductor or the MC (if there is one) since they’re the authority in charge, so to speak. So when should this happen?


Depends on the flow of the program. If your opening piece needs to be explained (ex: the piece tells a story), do it! If you programmed the opener as simply an opener, then let it be and just play it. Talk afterwards. I don’t see a problem with talking before each piece – especially if you stay onstage for the entire performance. However, if you talk for each, make sure the information is important, interesting and concise. Random factoids for the sake of factoids are not a good idea if you talk prior to each piece. If you don’t want to talk prior to each, you can go with the method of after every other piece or just when it’s important. That being said, don’t leave all your speaking to the very end. It wouldn’t make sense in the flow of the program. Symmetry is not a bad idea, too! 


So… how to go about this?


Step 1: learn how to use your stage voice. This is incredibly important for instrumentalists. Vocalists are taught how to resonate while they sing and this frequently carries over into their speaking voices. This is very good for them because when they speak, people can always hear them (aaaand then instrumentalists make fun of them…;). Instrumentalists should learn from their vocalist friends – speak loudly and resonate often. I’ll ask one of my vocalist friends to explain how to resonate in a future guest post.


Step 2: speak up! If you’re not using a microphone, speak louder than you think necessary and much slower than necessary. Our tendency when nervous is to “sub-phonate” (not put enough air behind the words, creating a guttural voice) and speak quickly. Your audience will not be able to understand you if you do this and might be too polite to holler, “HEH?! WHAT DID HE SAY??”


Step 3: listen to your words. Especially be aware of the ends of words. Radio hosts can always be understood because they are profoundly aware of how to phonate without the words dying off. Enunciation is paramount in public speaking – to get your point across, you must first say it clearly. Ever hear a kid say “horror house” and get really freaked out about what they’re talking about? There’s a big difference between that word being 2 syllables or 1…


Step 4: plan out what you will say. Depending on how comfortable you are with public speaking, you can write out a full script to memorize or just plan out the details. Either way, figure out what you will say and practice. No one likes to hear you say “umm” and “uhh” several times in a sentence. It doesn’t sound polished or professional. (Side note: I had a professor say “umm” over 700 times in one lecture. Yes. We counted.) Remember, this is part of the performance, too.


Step 5: speak often. The more you speak to audiences, the easier it will get. Don’t be shy – just do it.



Stay tuned for next week’s entry, FOLKS WHO WORK BEHIND THE SCENES, where I discuss why you should be kind and courteous to this people. Well, you should do that anyway, but I’m going to discuss why you should be extra kind.



* Excerpt taken from The Contemporary Classical Composer Bull-Sh*t Generator: http://www.dominicirving.com/temp/cccbsg.pl?

Categories: Stage Presence, Aware, Genuine

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