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?