Performing music involves much more than just playing well. There are certain expectations for how musicians look and behave when they’re on stage. But, where do musicians learn these skills?
Recently, I was looking over the description of a program for music students to earn a certificate for playing in front of an examiner. These types of events are common for music teacher associations, and they give students a big incentive–and a deadline–to learn a lot of music, to perform in public, and to receive feedback on their playing from someone other than their lesson teacher.
This particular program had a detailed description of what students should play and a list of what they would be judged on: ”tone, intonation, technique, rhythm, musicality, memorization, and stage presence.”
Okay, so the students have to memorize their music, play well technically, and also be musical. That all seems normal.
What struck me, though, was the last item: Stage Presence.
That seems a little difficult to judge. Though we all notice when a performer has no stage presence, what does it mean to have it? And, is it fair to judge young musicians on this vague concept?
At first glance, stage presence seems like charisma–something that some people just seem to be born with. But, after giving it some more thought, it occurred to me that maybe these judges are looking for specific ways of acting on stage that can (and should) be taught to musicians:
–Walk onto the stage looking like you belong there. Keep your head up, look confident, and look out at your audience.
–Acknowledge the audience when you get to center stage.
–Know ahead of time what you need to do to start playing. This could be a head nod or a count-in.
–If a mistake happens, keep pressing forward. Don’t change your facial expression and don’t stop playing.
–At the end of your performance, take a bow–whether or not your audience gives you any response.
These actions could all be considered “stage presence,” especially for young music students. I hope that musicians are learning these skills in their lessons. My guess is that very few teachers spend any real time with their students teaching them this valuable information.
If you’re a music student or a music teacher, leave a comment about stage presence. Is it being taught in your lessons? I’d like to hear your story.