You and Your Audience Are Connected
Here's another excerpt of my upcoming book, "Soulforce Arts: The Vital Role of Musicians & Other Artists in a World That's Lost Its Mind."
This excerpt is from my chapter on Playing From the Heart, which is one of the core practices of my book.
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You and Your Audience Are Connected
In our final section on playing from the heart, let’s come back to the story of the violin lesson I began this chapter with. Something that really stood out to me in that lesson was how immediately I was affected by my student’s shift in playing. As soon as she began playing from the heart, my body relaxed, my attention focused more deeply on her playing, my breathing deepened, and a smile came across my face – an ideal kind of response anybody might like to have in their audience! This relaxation response, which I’ve noticed time and again when my students play from the heart, is immediate, spontaneous, and visceral, and has become one of the primary ways I know that they’re on target. We will now explore how this connection shows us the deeper implications of playing from the heart.
Being able to judge each others’ emotional states is a matter of survival for humans, so – for the most part – we are very sensitive to each others’ emotional states. This sensitivity is what lets us get an immediate, visceral sense of someone’s emotional state when they walk into a room, for instance, or what allows us to sense someone’s emotional state from hearing their tone of voice, even when we can’t make out their exact words.
It’s no different with works of art. Indeed, it’s my opinion that this kind of immediate, visceral connection is the primary channel for communicating what the artist has in their soul to those who wish to receive it – inner audience member to inner audience member.
Contrast this to the experience of someone talking “at” you, rather than “with” you. How fun is it to receive someone talking “at” you? Does your inner audience member like it? No. The same holds true for being “danced at” by a dancer. There’s no real connection there, so it’s no fun for anybody. What’s needed instead is a real connection between artist and audience, which starts with the artist’s connection with themselves.
This is a natural extension of the first Principle of Playing from the Heart, which states that “What you pay attention to and how you pay attention is invariably reflected in your performances.” When you as the performer are more engrossed in your performance, that will come through in your body movements and your sound, and your audience will pick up on that, becoming more engrossed in your performance, as well. When you’re more bored with your performances, that too will come through in your movements and sound, and your audience will end up becoming more bored, as well.
It’s almost as though human attention has a “gravitational pull”; when you and I are in connection, your mindset and state of being affects my own, and vice versa. When you listen deeply to yourself in performance, your audience will listen more deeply to you. You and your audience inter-are.
Artists Are Leaders
Because of the immediacy and power of this connection, I view artists as leaders. Our job up on stage is to lead our audiences into a transportive experience so that they are moved, changed, refreshed, enlivened, and transformed. This is why they come to us, after all! Personally speaking, when I take in a performance, I don’t really care what style, genre, or era the material is from; I just want to be engrossed in an experience that moves me. This is the job of the performer, and the best way for the performer to do this is to allow themselves to be moved, transported, and transformed. This is how it’s done. This is the very essence of playing from the heart.
What you want is for your audience to be utterly engrossed by what you’re doing. You want them on the edge of their seats, transported away from their daily grind into your beautiful inner world, surprised and delighted by what you’re doing. The way you achieve this is simply to be transported, surprised, and delighted by your own performance, and the only way you can achieve that is to listen to the source of life within yourself, which is – you guessed it – your inner audience member. No amount of pre-planning, careful control, or subtlety of technique can substitute for drinking directly from the spring of life within you as you play. This spring is what refreshes your own soul as you engage in your creative practices, and it is what refreshes your audiences as they receive you. This is the meaning of authentic expressivity.
The more closely you listen to your inner audience member, the more your performances will come alive. And, again, it is the listening that matters the most. After all, what exactly is a real dance, as opposed to a mere collection of movements? As a 5-year-old student of mine once said, “It’s that they all go together.” Exactly! And what makes it all go together? It’s the listening of the performer.
Have you ever been in the presence of a performer who had… something special… some indefinable quality that entranced you, even when they weren’t doing anything? This is what deep listening feels like to an audience – it just sucks you in, leaving you breathless, even when the performer is playing only the simplest of melodies, or even just tuning their instrument.
You can do this, too – it just takes practice. When your listening develops to its fullest expression, you will have a listening so deep that all you have to do is walk out on stage and you already have your audience in the palm of your hand. Every gesture or sound you make from this place of deep listening will have a profound effect on your audience because the leadership and gravitational pull of your own listening will draw them in. And as you open to the source of life within yourself, you will help open them to the source of life within themselves, and they will adore you for being able to take them on that journey.