The Talking Musician

We are delighted to have our newest member of the Hello Stage team, Anna Heflin, writing for our blog! Anna will be sharing her experiences as a young musician this summer, so stay tuned for some exciting and insightful posts!

I have arrived at New Music On The Point (NMOP) and already love it here! The festival is located on the very picturesque Lake Dunmore in Vermont with canoes and kayaks ready to use, which I will definitely take advantage of. I’ve been assigned to play in four student pieces and one faculty piece, which we alternate every day. There is at least one presentation and concert every day showcasing student and faculty members!

The JACK quartet is in residence at NMOP and each faculty is an expert in contemporary music performance and/or composition, which is what drew me to the festival. Each chamber group has one faculty member in it and I’m lucky enough to be playing with Ari Streisfeld, Jennifer Beattie and Margaret Lancaster in addition to taking lessons with John Richards, which is such an amazing learning opportunity.

Today faculty member Adam Marks gave a lecture on “The Talking Musician” and I would like to dedicate my first blog post to what I learned from his presentation since so many people struggle with public speaking (including me!). Adam Marks is an internationally renowned soloist, chamber musician, curator and educator who specializes in public speaking and creative presentation. Here’s what I learned!!

Why speak to the audience?

As performers our job is to help the audience engage and feel the music. When done properly, speaking can help the audience connect with the music. A great speaker helps you relax, gives you a roadmap of the music and makes you feel like you’re a part of the performance. While performance notes are useful, once something is written down there’s no going back. When you speak to an audience you can change tactics. To do this, develop a bank of content that resonates with you and take cues from your audience. For example, you present pieces differently for a kindergarten class than you do at a new music center.

What do you share with your audience?

Combine research and emotional knowledge to share something that is intriguing to your audience. The goal is to connect with your audience, not to present to them, and sharing something more personal can help you do this. Simply stating the wiki facts (composer, era and their date of birth/date of death) won’t fascinate a classical music scholar or someone who rarely attends classical concerts. You want to give your audience the gift of hearing a piece from a different perspective no matter what their background it.

What gets in the way of connecting with your audience?

Most of us know the feeling of walking on stage and encountering nerves. Fear can come up for a variety of reasons, issues with projecting, not knowing what to say and being uncomfortable transitioning well from speaking to playing are just a few triggers for fear. While I’m not going to address how to deal with performance anxiety in this post, simply having an awareness of what makes you nervous will empower you. It’s okay to be a little nervous and not everyone magically turns into an extrovert when they walk on stage, you just have to learn how to highlight who you are in productive ways. Show your personality!

What do I say?

Compare your music to everything around you…music doesn’t stay on your stand! Prepare connective statements and relate it to something else if possible. On stage you also have the luxury to state your opinion by stating a fact or two, saying your view on the matter and inviting the audience to see what they think and feel.

How do I make sure that my content is interesting?

Try engaging with your non-musical friends! Notice when they lean in and what they ask questions about, these are the comments that you should include in your talk. Also notice if they are completely uninterested and if they are then ask yourself the following questions: Am I sharing my experience and the composers intent? Was I hypertechnical? Did I talk for too long? Did I leave out any of my audience? When in doubt, less is more!

How do I frame things in a way that interests people?

A great way to learn how to talk in a way that gets people engaged is to be a good listener and to recognize good curators! Start to notice when someone sparks your curiosity in a subject that you weren’t previously interested in and notice how they are speaking, their body language and their vocabulary. Another trick is to go to an art museum and see what keeps you interested. A great curator will guide you through an exhibit the same way that you should guide a listener through a program and each individual piece, both with your performance and your talking.

If I take two things away from this blog post what should they be?

- Your job is to help your audience feel and connect to the music, not to show how much you know.
- Combine research and emotional knowledge to allow everyone to engage with the music at their entry point.

Thank you so much Adam for sharing your insights on speaking to an audience! To learn more about Adam, visit his website at adammarks.com .

Los-Angeles native Anna Heflin is a classical violist who is passionate about contemporary music. Anna holds a Bachelor of Music and a minor in art history from UCSB, where she studied with Helen Callus and graduated with honors. She is currently studying at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music where she is pursuing her Masters of Music. At SFCM she is studying with Jodi Levitz while working with MaryClare Brzytwa and David Garner. Anna has a passion for contemporary music and composes works for herself in addition to premiering works. She enjoys incorporating electronics into her compositions and has experience working with Max/MSP and Ableton Live. This summer she is attending New Music On The Point and interning for HELLO STAGE in Vienna! When she’s not playing music you can find her drinking coffee, doing yoga or exploring.
Author: Anna Heflin
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