Presentation Part III: Body Language
Over the past two weeks, I have devoted this blog to my thoughts on attire and speech as important components of self-presentation in performance. This week, I have a few ideas I would like to share on the subject of body language. When it comes to teaching the trumpet, I am much more prone, very intentionally, to focus on what to do, rather than on what not to do. When it comes to body language while onstage, the reverse strikes me as a more effective approach.
Here are some behaviors to avoid:
Immediately moving around sheet music when a piece ends, or staring at your music stand between selections. Take advantage of this time to make eye contact with your audience, not to ignore them. There are real reasons why thousands of people turn up to arena concerts of often-terrible pop music while great artists struggle to fill small rooms with a paying audience. Music can be a joyous social gathering, or a miserable antisocial ordeal. I’ve certainly been present for plenty of both. Let’s not add to the problem by failing to acknowledge and include our audience. To this day, I vividly remember the impact I and those around me felt when Ryan Anthony played a solo with the Italian WonderBrass at the 2008 International Trumpet Guild Conference in Banff. More than his staggering virtuosity and enviably graceful piccolo trumpet playing, I remember being dazzled by his skill as a performer. Since he was not reading as he played, he was able to move around, and to make prolonged eye contact with his audience. I must have attended at least 20 or so separate events at that conference, in the process hearing a number of the world’s greatest trumpet players, yet this one stands out the most in my memory. Two others that left lasting impressions were recitals by Richard Carson Steuart and Chris Martin, each of which showcased authentic, engaging people who were very much at home in front of a crowd, and whose body language communicated that clearly. Obviously, all three of these people are exceptional trumpet players. I am not suggesting that playing well is unimportant. The problem is that lots of people play very well, and I can barely remember them doing it an hour later. Fine cuisine served on dirty dishes is not very appetizing and beautiful food lacking in seasoning is inedible. Each component of an experience interacts with the others to form the whole.
Signalling that you have made an error. Do not outwardly show anger, frustration, or any other negative emotional responses when something goes wrong in a performance. Most audiences won’t notice 95% of the problems that you hear, and even if they do, there is no argument to be made for broadcasting the news with a scowl, eye-roll, or other visual sign. Let’s not even get into the subject of responding this way toward a fellow performer’s error. In my opinion, this kind of response is symptomatic of a very unhealthy relationship with music and performing and suggests some real problems in the practice room and outside of musical life. An essay can contain a couple of typographical errors and still communicate meaningful ideas. Moreover, another essay can be perfectly edited and formatted and have no value whatsoever to the reader. Music is like this, too.
Not being involved throughout the entire performance. If you are on a stage, you are part of a performance. If you have a 308-measure rest (TRUMPET PLAYERS!), enjoy the music being made by the rest of the ensemble in an attentive and non-distracting fashion. If your body language suggests boredom or impatience, that will be noticed and possibly mirrored. As with most of my suggestions, if you genuinely prioritize the music and the experience of your fellow players and your audience over your ego, this stuff will just happen naturally.
Bowing, walking, or standing awkwardly. The elements of stage deportment can feel strange at first to inexperienced players, especially in relatively formal or, dare I say it, starchy situations like most orchestra concerts. Make use of mirrors and video recordings to evaluate and modify the way you enter, exit, bow, etc. to be sure that you convey the appropriate level of seriousness without either overdoing it or appearing too casual. If you are part of an ensemble, be sure that your stance and movements fit in well with the others onstage. The more formal the setting, the more uniform the group should look.
If you have your own ideas about body language in performance, please feel free to comment below. Thank you for reading!