Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Role of the Audience

A week ago I wrote about the Welcome Address to new music students given by Dr. Karl Paulnack,  In that speech, Paulnack discussed how "Music is a basic need of human survival." The speech was given in 2004 and Paulnack went on to expand on this discussion in 2008 and 2009.

On August 24, 2008 he gave a sermon at his church in Boston in which he discussed his ideas, but extended them to also consider the role of the audience in live performance.  The audio of that sermon is still available at the website of the church.  In it, he says the following.

"What matters more than the type of music that you like, is that we submit ourselves to it.  That we enter into a partnership with music where we recognize its potential as a therapeutic agent.  And live music is much much better for this than recorded music. . . With live music, the specific energy that you bring as an audience member affects the performers in subtle, but real, ways. And you influence what is being created.  In effect, you co-create the performance.  And music ends up being created with you in mind." 
Does that sound familiar?  If you've read my article on The Sound of Silence, you may recall I wrote that at the end of the performance of Mahler's Ninth Symphony "the audience had become performers along with the orchestra! We all helped to create that effect."  And when I talked to the orchestra members afterward about the magnificent performance, one of them commented that "it was very unusual for an audience to remain that still, not just at the very end, but throughout the final movement."  Clearly he was saying that the actions of the audience had had a positive effect on the performance by the orchestra.  This is just the sort of thing Paulnack was discussing in his sermon.

On April 25, 2009 Paulnack expanded upon this role of the audience in a telephone interview with Janice Harris published as a podcast on her Music Therapy website.  In that interview, he states the following.

". . . if you go to a performance and you sit there quietly with your gaze on the musicians, giving your whole heart and soul and attention into that performance, focusing on those musicians, supporting them, in a way; if you go with that kind of devotion, musicians thrive on that.  We can feel - we can actually feel which members  of the audience we have.  Who's with us?  And we usually play to those people.  We play to those people who are riveted on us, who are focused on us. . . They don't recognize how much of a positive impact they have on performance by sharing it.  And really, the performances are shaped half by the people in the audiences and their states of receptiveness, just as much as they're shaped by the people on the stage."
So the role of an audience member is not a passive role.  The more we engage with the performance, the more it will enhance the performance for us, as well as for everyone else.

And in that same podcast he discusses the power of some musical performances.

"Going out to Mahler's Second - that's not 'entertainment' - that's not what that's about.  It's a very deep and transformative - it can be a very deep transformative life saving experience.  So I think one of my intentions here is not to put down in any way people who do music as entertainment, or the use of music as entertainment.  There's nothing wrong with entertainment.  It's not a bad thing.  But to assume that all music somehow is entertainment or has a function of distracting us or carrying us away from the deeper aspects of life, is I think, a misconception in our society.  Music can actually carry us very very deeply into our lives and into a deeper experience and a deeper connection with our lives.  Which I see as a different function from entertainment."
Wow, he has set a high standard here!  This comment made an immediate connection with me when I heard it a couple of weeks ago, as I had just purchased tickets to the 3/14/10 performance of the Mahler Second Symphony by the San Francisco Symphony.  I will be taking both my Chiro Friend and the Dancing Cellist to this concert.  I bought three tickets to this one, as I didn't want to have to make a choice about which of the two of them would get to go to this one.  So I got tickets for both.  We're all really looking forward to this performance!


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