Giving positive reviews on a performance; our own vs. others


With solo recitals fast approaching I booked in a Live Performance Workshop in the theatre space in which the assessment will take place, this will give the students some experience of the sound and feel of the room and will go a long way to helping them to feel settled in their surroundings, having become familiar with the environment. Each student shared one piece in its current state of development either entirely solo or with a modest accompaniment. As usual there was an array of level on display; some students shone finding the environment to their liking, some who had struggled in previous LPW’s began to acclimatize to the task and were joyful when playing, others experimented with song selection to varying outcomes and some didn’t represent themselves particularly favorably, most likely owing to being under prepared.

To conclude the session I asked each student to choose his or her favourite performance and jot this onto a post-it along with why they felt it was effective. A flurry of pen finding and scribbling ensued followed by the proud placing of said post-its onto the black theatre walls. Glancing at the kind comments made by their peers several students lit up, smiling and returning to their seat with an air of contentment.

Next, I instructed the students to repeat this task, however this time the impressive elements identified were to be from the sharing of their own piece.

Most paused, their hesitation at first gave me the sense that they were uncertain if they had comprehended the task correctly, then some pensive and more succinct analysis took place and rather sheepishly these too were placed for all to see. I looked over these and noticed that many of the things that they believed went well in their own pieces were of a more functional nature such as remembering the lyrics, contrasted with the highly complimentary of being almost moved to tears when critiquing others, I couldn’t help observing the glaring disparity; these were the same performances being viewed from polarized perspectives.

So I posed this to the group “Why is it easier to say something positive about a performance given by others than our own?” and what upon reflection feels like an obvious response was the first one offered, “We don’t listen to our own performances”. Another student volunteered, “We are our own worst critic” and I now believe that somewhere between these two is the reason, what stays in our memory most prominently following a performance is usually the lowest point, the mistake; the out of time, out of tune, lacking inflection section. The most memorable point in something we witness however is the most effective, the place that moved us the most, where we felt the message most strongly. So are we listening to our own performances? Of course we hear them, we recognize the sound being produced and judge how accurate it is to the one practiced over time but to listen, now that is something much more intentional. And if we could listen with this kind of focus, either at the time or reflectively by way of recording, would we be able to identify that what moves the listener isn’t always the accuracy of pitch or timing or articulation but the way that these components combine to portray emotion. Are we able to listen to the feeling in our own performances? Are we capable of feeling it, the same way we do so subjectively in the music made by others?

I’m keen to hear how this resonates with other musicians and performers as well as educators and practitioners in these creative fields. I plan on continuing to explore this practice with this group of students and others that I am fortunate enough to help develop performance technique with.

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