“When I finally saw how I looked, I realized that I was distracting the audience from the music.”
-Alfred Brendel, pianist
The Musician’s Way, p. 171
Imagine standing backstage prior to your entrance at the start of a concert: as the house lights dim, the audience quiets.
You nod to the stagehand, the stage door opens, and on you go.
Now, everything you do affects your relationship with the audience. From the instant you appear, you can establish a friendly bond or send clumsy signals that spark disinterest.
Your musical skills aren’t the only things coming into play. You also need fluent stage deportment and an engaging presence.
“Everything you do affects your relationship with the audience.”
Deportment vs. Presence
Stage deportment encompasses the technical know-how for conducting oneself on the concert platform. Stage presence, by comparison, includes artistic dimensions such as showmanship.
You won’t have much of a presence until you’re confident with deportment, so I’ll cover deportment issues here. For pointers about presence and other aspects of building comprehensive performance skills, see Part II of The Musician’s Way as well as the related posts linked at the end of this article.
Below, I list seven topics related to the formal deportment customs used by soloists and small groups performing in the classical and jazz traditions. To master these customs, reinforce them in practice performances, video-record yourself, and then evaluate your on-stage style in collaboration with peers and a mentor.
All of the following topics are further explored on pages 171-177 of The Musician’s Way.
“Stage deportment encompasses the technical know-how for conducting oneself on the concert platform.”
7 Components of Stage Deportment
In all walks of life, attire makes a potent statement. And the grand setting of the stage greatly magnifies attire’s effect. Hence, concert clothing among classical and jazz performers often tilts toward the higher end of the respectability scale.
In a few words, your stage attire is most appropriate when it fits you comfortably, matches the traditions of a venue or an occasion, and helps an audience feel receptive.
“Your stage attire is most appropriate when it fits you comfortably, matches the traditions of a venue or an occasion, and helps an audience feel receptive.”
2. Entrances and Exits
When an audience initially sees you, your manner speaks volumes about who you are and why you perform. The combination of your stride, posture, gestures, and attire communicate your personality and your command of the concert setting.
In general, convey energy and confidence, making it clear that there’s nowhere else you’d rather be.
Bowing is a courteous response to applause; it’s a sign of gratitude and respect. But not all bows are equal.
Your bow upon entering can be less deep and held for a shorter duration. At the close of a performance, when applause is enthusiastic, a somewhat deeper bow, held longer, demonstrates your appreciation. Ordinarily, bend at the hip joints no more than 45 degrees – half that much is fine. Instruments are commonly held to the side.
“Your manner speaks volumes about who you are and why you perform.”
4. Setting Up and Tuning
After entering and bowing, many aspiring performers feel rushed. “The audience is waiting,” they scold themselves. “Get going and start.” But there’s no reason to rush. When listeners finish applauding, they need a few moments to settle into a receptive mood.
Calmly arrange yourself, your music, and any gear. Then, tune no louder than necessary.
After tuning, create silence before launching the first phrase so that you place the music in a separate sonic universe from the sounds of tuning.
Your body language as you perform can be appealing, neutral, distracting, or negative. By video-recording a practice performance, you’ll see where you lie on that continuum.
Audiences like it best when your on-stage movements are authentic but graceful.
Moreover, negative gestures have no place on stage – when errors or other surprises occur, keep up a cool exterior and an optimistic interior.
6. Handling Scores
When scores are handled nimbly and music stands are unobtrusive, an audience will stay immersed in your musical message. Cumbersome page-turns, on the other hand, can crack your musical spell.
Most page-turning dilemmas can be forestalled with careful score preparation or by using an electronic display such as an Air Turn. Most important, prepare scores early – postponing can lead to last-minute turmoil.
“Negative gestures have no place on stage – when errors or other surprises occur, keep up a cool exterior and an optimistic interior.”
Speaking from the stage can work wonders to enhance audience-performer rapport. If you ever detect an emotional barrier separating you from your listeners, a few well-chosen words can dissolve that disconnection.
To practice your speaking skills, use an audio or a video recorder and, prior to an appearance, rehearse what you’ll say. On stage, though, announce in a way that sounds unscripted. Still, be concise. Audiences want to hear music, not monologues.
“Speaking from the stage can work wonders to enhance audience-performer rapport.”
* * *
If performance customs seem alien to you at first, don’t be intimidated. With practice, your musicianship and presentation skills will unite. Then, your poise in the concert environment will shore up your confidence, and your on-stage manner, like your smile, will become a genuine expression of who you are.
Recommended Audio & Video Recorders
© 2017 Gerald Klickstein
Adapted from p. 171-177 of The Musician’s Way