|Posted on June 22, 2013 at 12:50 AM||comments (3)|
As I suspected, Take 2 was different than Take 1! Good thing I took notes on both days, huh?
Parts 4 & 5 (Take 2) - Body language creates a sense of comfort
Performing is to share a piece of the soul
Today, I again asked the question, "What're some body language things that make someone look comfortable?"
- Shoulders back and broad
- Standing still
- Confident walk with purpose
- Talking to the audience, not at the stand
- Open face
- Hunched over and scared
- Knees locked
- Hiding behind the stand
- Jittery hands
- Shaky breath
- Messing with hair
- Looking scared
5. I am just so proud of you
|Posted on June 20, 2013 at 11:10 PM||comments (0)|
Today and tomorrow will feature the same questions, but (possibly) different answers since half my class learned to beatbox today and the other half will learn tomorrow. (PROJECT Trio in da hizzy!) I had originally planned on Day 4 being body language and Day 5 being a performance, but I decided to squish these two days together and teach the same class twice. So, tomorrow will have the same title, but will be Take 2.
Get on with it!
Part 4 & 5 (Take 1) - Body language creates a sense of comfort
Performing is to share a piece of the soul
Today I asked, "What're some body language things that make someone look comfortable?"
- Relaxed arms
- Open torso
- Comfortable sitting position
- Straight backs (looks professional)
- Eye contact with the audience
- Crossed arms
- Shoulders forward/collapsed
- Sloppy walking
- Seeming apathetic
|Posted on June 20, 2013 at 12:10 AM||comments (0)|
My students in my stage presence class are pretty supremely awesome. I keep throwing crazy things at them and they're really going for it and giving it a shot. Here is today's brainstorm.
Part 3 - 100% Comimitment to Choices
Today's question was, "What makes an actor believable?"
- Tone of voice
- Appropriate emotion to the scene
- Facial expression
- Natural speaking (not just repeating lines)
- Body language
- Leave themselves room for improvisation
- Staying in character
- The way they walk (body language)
- You really believe this is happening to them
- They give 100%
|Posted on June 18, 2013 at 11:15 PM||comments (0)|
This week, I have the privilege of teaching at Floot FIre - Metroplex in Dallas, Texas! I'm teaching masterclasses, chamber music groups, and two electives, one of which is entitled "Getting Comfy with the Stage". Each day in this class, we are attacking a different aspect of having good stage presence and begin each day with a little brainstorm.
Because my students are supremely awesome (and because I promised them I would), I'll be posting our brainstorms on here each day!
I didn't post yesterday, because I was running on 2 hours of sleep and felt I should go to bed instead of attempting to mess with technology. So, I'll post both Monday's brainstorm and today's brainstorm in one shot.
Let's do this!
Part 1 - Using a Stage Voice
Yesterday, I asked the question: "What're some things that make a performer seem comfortable on the stage?"
- Confident breathing (a shaky breathing = nervous!)
- Facial expression
- Confident entrance
- Stage Voice
- Seeing them (i.e. stand height)
I then asked them, "What makes a rockstar's performance awesome?"
- Audience connection (talking to the audience between pieces)
- Being open
See what I mean? These students are fantastic. It's like they've been reading this blog the whole time!!
Since Monday was to be dedicated to the stage voice, I came back to that topic and asked, "If someone is speaking during their performance, what makes it possible for you to understand them?"
- Projecting to the back of the room
- Speaking slowly
- Using hand gestures, but not too much (i.e. body language that enhances what is being said)
After this little brainstorm, we played the alphabet game in which we passed the alphabet around the circle, concentrating on eye contact and using a stage voice. After that, I taught them a few enuncuation tongue twisters. Here's a fun one to get your mouth moving:
You know New York
You need New York
You know you need unique New York
Tough to say quickly and clearly, isn't it? Once of these days, I promise to write an entry dedicated solely to using a stage voice. But for now, we'll just go on to Part 2...
Part 2 - Staying in the Moment
Today, I began by asking the question, "Why is it important for musicians to 'stay in the moment'?"
- Staying in the moment captivates your audience
- Maintain focus if you're nervous
- Keeps you from going on autopilot and missing what other people are doing
- You don't want to lose track of where you are
I then asked, "Why is it important for actors to stay in the moment?"
- You don't want to lose character
- If someone messes up a line, you have to be able to react naturall, not just repeat your normal lines (i.e. be ready to improvise if necessary)
|Posted on May 28, 2012 at 1:45 AM||comments (0)|
Musicians are humans and just like every human in the world, we like to complain. We like to dig our heels in. We like to say “NO!” when it’s just as easy to say, “let’s try it.” So, today’s post is Don’t Be an A**hole. Please.
Let’s start with saying, “let’s try it” instead of saying “no.”
We are all painfully aware that the arts are struggling right now. Struggling to get funding, struggling to get audiences, struggling to pay their artists, struggling to make a career out of what you went to college for. The only good thing about this struggle is that we are starting to get really creative with how we promote and present ourselves. And it’s not just the artists who are starting to get creative and think outside the box. It’s also the executive directors, the marketing directors and the development directors – the folks not typically associated with right brain creativity. But they’re getting creative and they want…no, need our help. If every time they come up with a decent idea, we say “no”, they’re going to eventually stop asking for our help. Perhaps they’ll start demanding the help or perhaps they’ll just give up altogether. Either way, we as the folks who produce the art that people experience need to be open to new ideas. In addition to being open to new ideas, we need to bring our creativity to the brainstorming table, not just expect the other people to come up with ideas. Don’t be an a**hole if someone comes up with an idea. Give it a chance by thinking it through or by bringing a different idea to the table. Don’t shoot it down and then get angry that they aren’t doing enough.
On the flip side of the coin for the management types, include your artists in these brainstorming sessions. They are artists, after all. They are paid to be creative, so encourage them to do just that. And don’t just include them for the sake of including them. Really listen to their ideas and be open to the fact that they may just know what they’re doing. If you hand down tasks from on high without their input and creativity, they will get frustrated and feel used and invisible. You are not the only creative ones in the organization, so make sure that there is a lot of input from the production side of things. In this day and age of budget cuts, we need to work hand in hand to achieve our goals not fisticuffs.
**Gets off soap box**
Along a similar vein of being open, don’t be afraid to look silly.
**Considers soap box, moves it over slightly, and steps back on**
A novel idea that orchestras are trying are playing with the attire and dress code. Perhaps the performance is all music from the 50s, so the musicians are asked to dress in 50s costumes. Will you look silly in a poodle skirt? Oh, yes. Will the audience appreciate it? Totally! It’s a little thing and they like it. It also humanizes the musicians, making them more approachable. Do you need to go out a rent/buy a $50 costume? No. There are ways to create homemade costumes on the cheap, but you have to give it a try first.
At a young people’s concert, perhaps the education director asks the entire orchestra to cover their ears at a certain part. Do it! Do it with enthusiasm! Kids love that stuff! Don’t be an a**hole and roll your eyes at the fact that you’ve been asked to do something silly and undignified. Especially at a young people’s concert, silly and undignified is a wonderful way for kids to learn that the orchestra isn’t just boring old people playing music by boring old dead people.
**Considers the ground and decides to stay on the soapbox**
Be gracious. When the audience applauds, smile. When they tell you how wonderful your conductor is, agree (no matter what). Make them feel appreciated. Don’t ever complain in front of an audience member. When orchestra members congratulate you on your solo, say thank you with some semblance of sincerity.
**I really love my soapbox. It’s comfy up here.**
Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Have you tried to be an education director or marketing director for an orchestra? It’s a tough job, especially if you don’t have an assistant or an intern. Think about what they’re dealing with before you decide to have a cow about something they’ve asked you to do. Maybe an opportunity materialized and they’d like to take advantage of it. Remember, they need your help. If it’s in your contract that you need 30 days notice and they’ve only given you a week, consider helping this person and the organization out. I’m not saying you should let them take advantage of your schedule, but if you don’t have any previous plans or if you have plans that can be easily moved, consider taking the gig. They will owe you one and they won’t forget it. If there comes a time that you feel like you’re being taken advantage of, set up a meeting, lay out your issue in a calm and rational way. If you truly try to not be an a**hole, they will appreciate your words and will respond accordingly. That goes for all parties, in fact, not just the artists. Always try to see things from the other side of the coin and ask yourself, “Is it fair that I’m feeling this way? Or did I misinterpret something?”
These are all pretty obvious, aren’t they? However, especially in the orchestra world, there seems to be this mentality of “us versus them” from all parties. As soon as one “side” does something a**hole-y, then the other “side” does something and it becomes a gigantic downward spiral. However, if you refuse to be an a**hole, then no one can accuse of doing just that.
And that goes for everyone.
**Puts soapbox away for the week**
Stay tuned for next week’s entry, KNOWING YOUR VISUAL HABITS, where I discuss why it’s a really good idea to videotape yourself and practice in front of a mirror.
|Posted on May 23, 2012 at 2:30 PM||comments (0)|
We all know to play nice with the conductors, the executive directors and the personnel managers. I mean these are the people who’ve hired us to play music and could ensure that we never work for them again if we perform badly or act like jerks. But these are not the only people who deserve our respect and congeniality.
A wise man (my dad) once told me that you should always make friends with the people who work behind the scenes - custodians, secretaries, stagehands, you name it. Over the past several decades of my dad’s career as a public school music teacher, he has gone out of his way to make friends with the custodians and all the secretaries in the main office. He hasn’t always done this with the administration.
Those behind the scenes can be your greatest allies or your worst enemies depending on how you treat them. If you are kind to these folks, they will be more willing to go out of their way – maybe even break some rules – to help you out. If you run roughshod over them, they can make your life a living hell (and with good reason).
It’s a sad fact that our society ignores, takes advantage and is blatantly rude to the people behind the scenes. These folks deal with stupid, rude, inconsiderate people all day. For a custodian, they deal with people leaving trash everywhere and leaving their room a mess. For a secretary, it’s rude parents and teenagers. Stagehands get yelled at for mixing up chairs or putting a stand in the wrong place.
Simply put, just because they aren’t making the music for the audience or teaching your children, they are still an integral part of what we all do. Show them the utmost respect. And frankly, isn’t this a good idea for life?
Let me give you an example. There is a wonderful stagehand that works with one of the orchestras I play in. Let’s call him Frank. All of the percussionists in this orchestra are really friendly with Frank and treat him as an equal. In response, he does his very best to make sure they have all the gear they need in the right place. Granted, Frank isn’t a percussionist so this isn’t the easiest for him. But he always tries. Also, since I’m not a local musician, eating out at restaurants all weekend gets expensive so I bring a cooler full of food with me. Frank lets me store my vittles in his fridge backstage. I can’t tell you how big a help this has been for me and it’s all because I take time out each concert cycle to say hello to Frank, ask how he is and commiserate with him if it’s a huge stage set-up.
When was the last time you thanked your stagehands for being so quick with striking the piano from the stage and putting the 1st violins’ chairs back? Does it really matter if it wasn’t perfect?
When did you last thank your custodian for emptying your office’s trash?
Yes, I know it’s their job to do these things. But it’s your job to play music and doesn’t the audience thank you for it with their applause? Don’t they approach you after the concert and congratulate you?
The audience doesn’t get to know our backstage friends. So in lieu of a standing ovation, let your local stagehand, custodian and secretary know how much you appreciate what they do. We all want to feel appreciated and those behind the scenes deserve to feel that way, too.
Stay tuned for next week’s entry, DON’T BE AN A**HOLE, where I ask musicians to not be, well… you get the point.
|Posted on May 6, 2012 at 2:40 PM||comments (0)|
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?
|Posted on March 25, 2012 at 4:05 PM||comments (3)|
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.
|Posted on March 4, 2012 at 11:15 PM||comments (0)|
When does the performance start? I’m not talking about the time of day when the performance starts. In fact, the performance truly starts prior to that 7:00/7:30/8:00 downbeat. It starts the moment you step on stage or the moment you are in “costume” in public.
“Wha…? But that’s not when the concert starts. And all-black/tuxes aren’t costumes…”
Let’s start with the costumes thing. To us musicians, our concert attire isn’t a costume. It’s a uniform. It’s work clothes. It’s what we wear to blend in with the rest of the folks on stage. But before we arrive at the hall, people see us and we stand out. Seriously, who wears a tux to Starbucks? People notice and some will ask! “Where are you going all dressed up in that tux?” I know so many people who have said something like, “Oh, I’ve just got this gig.”
Congratulations! You’ve successfully communicated to that stranger that you 1) don’t care about this gig and 2) they shouldn’t come see it because it’s not a big deal. Good job, Champ.
Instead of shutting them down, try something like “I’m playing with [name of ensemble] tonight! We’re playing [repertoire] and it’s going to be a lot of fun!” With this simple change, you have just opened the door wide for this stranger to reply with questions on where the performance is, how much tickets are, what excites you about this performance, what instrument you play, how long you’ve been playing, etc. You may have just gotten a complete stranger to attend your performance. And isn’t that what we want as artists - an audience?
We live in a culture that tends toward the negative and apathetic. I know I am guilty of falling prey to both. However, if we feed that negativity, we will shut out potential audience members, future musicians, and yes… donors. By taking the positive route, we open the door for those folks.
“What if I’m not excited about this concert?”
There must be something you find interesting on the program! Is the soloist exciting? Do you get to play loud stuff? Is your section playing an incredible melody? Is the group playing a piece that’s ridiculously fun? Isn’t playing music for a living supremely awesome?? Even if it’s one thing, tell that person you met about it! Get excited and infuse that stranger with your passion!
“No, seriously. There’s nothing exciting about this whatsoever.”
We all have our negative moments, but keep the vast majority of them to yourself, only share a little with your colleagues, and never ever let your audience know that you are less than excited about performing for them. As soon as you step into public in your classical musician costume, the performance has begun. Use this visual aid to your advantage by starting conversations with strangers and getting them excited about your performance!
Stay tuned for Part 2 where I discuss the performance beginning with a step on stage.