Journeys of Self Discovery (Part 3) – The Emperor is Naked!

Recap: I’m writing about making music performances (particularly jazz and classical) more appealing to more people.

I have two areas to address:

  1. Giving audiences and performers more/alternative freedoms
  2. Improving communication/collaboration = improving performance

The Emperor is Naked!

“But the Emperor has nothing at all on!” said a little child. 

“Listen to the voice of innocence!” exclaimed his father; and what the child had said was whispered from one to another.

“But he has nothing at all on!” at last cried out all the people. The Emperor was vexed, for he knew that the people were right; but he thought the procession must go on now! And the lords of the bedchamber took greater pains than ever, to appear holding up a train, although, in reality, there was no train to hold.


There may be audiences who thoroughly enjoy (for example) every second of Mahler’s 9th (75-85 minutes long!).  Not me.  When I saw the TSO perform Mahler’s 9th, I was probably only focusing on the performance for 10 minutes, max.  The rest of the time, I’m embarking on journeys of self-discovery, thinking about my career, wishing I could socialize with my friend, and ironically, secretly chastising all the coughers, whisperers and wrapper-crinklers.

Cynical, maybe.  Or is the Emperor naked?  There’s only one way to find out.

Open More Feedback Channels

I’m writing this firstly because I don’t think I’m the only one.  I suspect most audience members wish they could at least push pause, stand up and stretch.

I’m also writing this because, as I mentioned in my previous post, performing is a widespread collaboration between all participants and contributors.  Improving performances means improving the quality of communication and collaboration.  If our goal is to make music performances more appealing, we need to start communicating and be honest about our experiences during music performances.

This includes audiences communicating with performers.

One way to do this is to open more feedback channels.  Otherwise, how would performers really know if they’re connecting with audiences?

Classical music concerts are notoriously rigid in how they support feedback.  Compare concerts to hockey games, where there’s clapping, heckling, cheering, socializing, analyzing, eating, drinking, standing and leaving whenever and however you want.

Audience feedback at concerts is limited to applauding only after the completion of a piece.  Occasionally there’s some cheering and the odd “bravo!”  There are also standing ovations (which my friend Scott MacInnis has nicknamed “standing evacuations”).  But generally, for 95% of the performance, any kind of body movement is frowned upon.

How Did This Happen?

I have a habit of eating every morsel of food on my plate.

Sometimes this is because I enjoy what I’m eating.  Other times, it’s because I was taught to eat that way.

This may come from my parents, trying to instill good manners and eating etiquette into their kids.  After all, my grandparents grew up during the Great Depression. Picky eating and leftover food aren’t options when there isn’t enough to go around.

Times have changed; there’s more food.

I don’t have to finish all my food, but I still do, sometimes to the detriment of my belly.  Because of habits and social pressures, I often eat all the food on my plate whether I enjoyed it, or not.

Readers take note: you don’t have to finish all the food on your plate.  Throw it out or ask for half-portions.  Or do what Kim Kardashian does and spray Windex on it.

Likewise, you also don’t have to sit through entire classical music concerts.  Get up and leave, or ask for half-portions.  Or do what the Loony Toons do and throw tomatoes on stage.

But these kinds of feedback channels – because of concert etiquette, social pressures, habits etc. – are closed.  Somehow, the concert tradition has evolved this way.

Maybe it evolved for good reasons, but my instincts are telling me that times have changed and the concert tradition’s response to this change should be to open more feedback channels.

Supporting Feedback Loops

I’m not suggesting that we immediately open all feedback channels.  There’s a reason why they’re closed in the first place:

Think about how comedians deal with feedback, or laughter.  If everyone’s laughing, they may stay the course, or take more risks, or put a little more energy into the performance.  If no one’s laughing, they’d better change their game plan, fast.

It’s similar with heckling.  Once hecklers reach a certain point of annoyance, comedians should deal with them.

The best performers will interact with the audience/hecklers in an entertaining way, as if it’s part of the show.  Having the ability to adapt to the circumstances, change the game plan and interact with audiences is an important element of effective communication and good performances.  The goal is to support “feedback loops.”

But this requires impromptu material.  Performers of classical music have no impromptu material.

Suppose every audience member had a gauge over his/her head, accurately measuring attentiveness, enjoyment and pleasure. If every gauge showed that everybody was bored out of his/her skull, the performers would still have no choice but to continue with the show.  Performers of classical music lack the vocabulary to adapt to different circumstances.

Programs are decided years in advance.  Every note on the page is fixed.  Entrances, acknowledgements, bows, curtain calls, and encores are all planned well in advance.  Even “impromptu” speeches and jokes are often scripted.

For My Next Post(s)…

Let’s loosen up a bit!  This will be the topic of my next post.

I’ll write more about supporting feedback loops in the concert hall.  Strong feedback loops are key to effective communication and good performances.

I suspect though, that there are factors at work here that I’m not addressing.  As per my previous post, things are more complicated and relationships in a concert hall can’t be reduced merely to a performer-audience dynamic.

That model might be best for practicality though.  Stay tuned!


Leave a Reply