ain't baroque! :||
Don't Fix It

People who KNOW

Every single music teacher I have ever had, from third grade orchestra to tri-county symphonic orchestra, has given the exact same speech before a concert. Oh, I don’t mean the exact same entirely; there are riffs and variations based on the pieces played, and the state of them in rehearsal. But they always throw this one out:

Don’t worry about making mistakes – no one in the audience will know if you mess up!

I understand that they are not try to claim that, should the first chair bassist crunch his bow into the strings and make a distressingly low screeching sound in the middle of a pianissimo violin solo, no one will know the difference. What they are saying is that, should we botch a minor tempo or get a little out of sync, the audience is unlikely to notice, because what do they know from classical music?

This reassurance has never, ever, ever worked for me, and here’s why: 99% of the time, my mother was in that audience. AND SHE KNEW. She is a classical music aficionado and, were the violas off or our allegros a little too allegro, SHE KNEW. And she would tell me afterward. As in, “That bit was wrong.”

Which was fine, actually – it made for for honest feedback, which I much prefer to blind praise. And anyway, it made those times when she was impressed much more meaningful. However, it also rendered the pre-gig rallying cry of the conductor completely pointless.

A couple weeks ago, when we talked about phoning it in, it was mentioned that one of the reasons that’s such a bad idea is because there is always someone in the audience who knows. Doesn’t matter where you go.

School band and orchestra directors, this applies to you too! And so I make this recommendation to you: find a new trope. You’ve definitely got the right idea, attempting to give your musicians a pre-concert boost, but hit us with something true. There is someone in the audience who KNOWS.

Incidentally – music directors of all types, tell me! What do you say to your ensemble before you go on?


About Jenn

Despite being the former digital marketing intern at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Jenn German does not like Mozart. Beethoven could've totally beaten him up. Also she has an arts management graduate degree from American University, but this changes nothing.


8 thoughts on “People who KNOW

  1. From my comment on ‘on the evils of over-reaching’:

    Stephen Brown’s reply (hope you don’t mind me re-posting)
    Dear JessWyatt,
    As someone who regularly traverses both sides of the Atlantic since I was a teen some 29 years ago, I can assure you it is entirely a US/UK thing: no-one in the UK dare mention that an audience member may be ignorant to what’s going on musically, because as you mention, many of them probably aren’t. I’ve only ever heard it said States-side (and usually by Educators, too), much to my dismay. I just wish US performers would stop kidding themselves, and US audiences stop keeping quiet about their actual experience and knowledge – it would make for a MUCH healthier live music environment.
    That’s all.

    Posted by jesswyatt | May 28, 2013, 2:08 pm
  2. I rarely get to speak with my ensembles for a pep rally, but when I do, it’s always “Listen to each other, to the audience, and to your own playing… and enjoy every note!”

    Posted by www.stephenpbrown.com | May 28, 2013, 2:09 pm
  3. Help, it didn’t repost my original comment, which was:

    ‘I don’t know whether it’s a UK-US thing, but I have never, ever been told by a conductor/director before the concert to not worry about mistakes as no-one in the audience will notice. That seems to me to encourage a lack of responsibility in the players and a desire not to even want to play the best they can, even less reach their potential. And in many cases in concerts I’ve played in, there have been people who know much more than the performers about the music. I always find it safest to assume there are experts in the audience, and try and pretend you are playing to them. Obviously everyone makes mistakes, but it is learning to cover and recover from them that is the most important lesson to learn, not the ‘it doesn’t matter in the first place’ attitude.’

    Reply to Stephen: That’s a really interesting cultural difference from US to UK. There probably isn’t that much difference in the knowledge of our audiences, but it is just the way we perceive their knowledge that is different. I can’t think of a reason for the difference though, but it might be a standard British ‘stiff upper lip’ type thing! It would be interesting to see the results if someone did a survey of audience musical knowlege in UK vs US!

    A common thing said to performers before going on here is Toi Toi, or good luck, that sort of thing – more encouragement to do well, rather than the dismissal of any mistakes you might make.

    Posted by jesswyatt | May 28, 2013, 2:14 pm
  4. I am a piano teacher, and I usually just comment that we are all here to share music together. At the beginning of my spring recital, I likened our celebration to a party. We all knew we were having food (the reception table was laden with cookies and treats), there were ribbons and awards under the chairs (prizes for our hard work this year), but the gifts – that was the music that each student brought to the audience. It’s more about the music, than the performers. Yes, there will be mistakes. We are not ipods. Hopefully we can grow from the experience, and I hope our audiences will appreciate our efforts.

    Posted by kaylynnlowry | May 28, 2013, 3:59 pm
  5. Interesting. I’ve heard a lot of that speech, too, and have used it with many of my students. Maybe because I’m a percussionist and have played more wind band and percussion literature than anything (stuff that is relatively MUCH newer), I would believe that most high school band parents have not heard the piece we have played before. I also think students are wise enough to understand that by “they won’t notice” means those little mistakes rather than dropped sticks or a more glaring mistake. It gets them focused on music making in the moment rather than lingering their thoughts on a mistake in the past.

    I do agree that it can be overused, and maybe we should start thinking about other things to say. I usually say something to the effect of “We’ve put in all the hard work, and now it is time to focus and have fun making great music.” Tends to relax them and puts the jitters at ease.

    Posted by Rokohl | May 29, 2013, 8:21 pm

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