In the past few weeks I’ve been talking with a number of musicians about the workshops, residencies, and other teaching artist (AKA “outreach”) work they offer. It’s worth fine-tuning yours because having real teaching artist skills can make you more marketable to concert series and university presenters. So the question for you, dear reader, is this, How well are you connecting with your audiences?
Which leads me back to Anthony Roth Costanzo’s fabulous recital I wrote about last week. His enthusiastic, charming introductions of works helped “sell me” on the Purcell / Britten pairings. His ease with speaking to us, his energized body language and generous approach to performing—holding nothing back—made for a terrific experience.
Introducing yourself and your programming from the stage — and doing it well — is a key skill needed in any form of teaching artist work. It’s the ground floor of teaching artistry. And these days, it’s also expected for “mainstage” performances.
Many musicians feel that speaking from the stage is not appropriate in higher profile concert series, when you’re performing for a musically sophisticated audience.
But as a case in point, Mr. Costanzo’s recital was part of the Boston Celebrity Series, the highest profile concert series in New England. The audience was full of knowledgeable concert goers. And judging by the response to Anthony’s performance and to his speaking, they loved it.
Of course, you’ll always want to check with the presenter in advance. And of course, there will always be a few people who would rather not hear an artist speak. But more and more, presenters are wanting artists who not only perform like gods, but who also can introduce a work or two on the program and make a real human connection, inviting the audience into the experience, and welcoming those unfamiliar with the repertoire.
Introductions done well can frame the audience’s experience to help them engage more directly with the music. For me, a great concert is one in which the artist has given me an opportunity to make meaning. To reflect, engage, and connect my own memories, emotions, associations, and experience. A few well-chosen sentences spoken from the stage can help get us closer to making a real connection.
In poking around online for video footage of exemplary teaching artist work, look what I found. More Anthony Roth Costanzo. I know I sound like a raving fan, but take a few moments to watch this clip below. It’s one of the most effective examples I’ve seen of an artist helping an audience make a personally relevant connection with unfamiliar music.
Here Anthony’s singing a Handel aria for countertenor to an audience of sixth graders in the Bronx. See how he invites them in to first share their experience, and then gets them into the emotional territory so they’re ready to hear the piece. See how he sticks with it even though this is a tough audience to win over. And listen to their feedback.
Teaching Artistry — it’s for the courageous.
The effectiveness of workshops, residencies, and educational performances can be hard to measure. Not just in terms of the learning outcomes and curricular goals, but in terms of artistry—how effective we are at helping audiences make a meaningful connection to the music.
It’s too easy to offer a generic master class or clinic, or to ‘phone in’ the same workshop we’ve given at the last 10 schools or conferences.
We can all do better.
To upgrade your teaching artistry, consider the following:
1. What questions do you ask audiences and why?
2. What are you asking your audience to do? How do you encourage active listening? Do you use metaphor, stories, visual media?
3. What is your intended outcome for the workshop or performance? What are you seeking to change, unlock, or unleash in your audience?
4. How will you know if you’ve succeeded?
5. In speaking with audiences, what might help you be more fully present, more honest and engaged?
All too often, when it comes to “outreach” work, musicians try to wing it. They fail to give themselves enough time to clarify their intentions, and to plan, organize, and rehearse their presentations.
The best teaching artists don’t “wing it.” They bring their best selves to their “outreach” work where there’s no barrier, no formality. Where you perform in intimate settings with people in arm’s reach. Human to human.
Teaching artistry calls for being real, being honest and direct, and not holding back.
It’s not easy.
But musicians often report that their most gratifying musical experiences come through doing this work. And that they have also been the most challenged by this work.
That’s a terrific artistic combination: challenging and gratifying. It doesn’t get much better than that.
And on the most practical level, musicians who offer engaging teaching artist work have more opportunities. They can build on what would otherwise be a single performance, making it into a mini-residency, making more impact — and more income.
And my book, Beyond Talent has a whole chapter on residency / teaching artist work.
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Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well