Once, in my twenties, playing at a coffeehouse in front of my friends, I took care of my nervousness by reassuring them at the beginning that it was okay for them to talk during my performance. When they talked so much they didn’t hear me, I very much regretted my choice! I had mistakenly created an interaction where I was seen as a very amateur player, not worth listening to.
I wasn’t an amateur player. But once I told the audience I was, there was little I could do to change it. First impressions aren’t correct…they’re just enduring.
While there’s only so much I can do to control the audience’s interpretation of my best efforts, I can certainly control the rules of our interaction much better. I must understand what my choices are about where, when and how I play, and I must make the best choices for me. If I do not have choices, I must understand the rules and difficulties going in so I can prepare for them.
I prefer working at venues that make me look and sound as good as possible. If I’m smart, I’ll dress in a way that communicates competence even before I hit a note. I like to talk to the audience in certain situations to prepare them for something that they may have difficulty processing on their own, such as a difficult or dissonant piece, or one that appears simple but is not.
When I don’t have these kinds of options, I find my job is to be aware of the things I am in control of: Do I know the piece well enough to play it under any conditions? Am I able to emotionally detach from the experience if the audience turns out indifferent or even mean?
Sometimes despite my best efforts, I will be in a situation where I am seen as a poor player. Then all I can do is decide how much of this was preventable. Should I have practiced more, are the negative comments focused on specifics which are in my control, and should I have ever taken this gig in the first place?
The same thing applies to anyone in any creative endeavor. If I’m an author discussing my book, I’d better know who I’m presenting to, whether they know my work, whether they even like my kind of genre. And even as a writer selling my stuff, I should know where to post the work, how to format it for best consumption, what to do with the comments I may or may not receive.
It isn’t easy to bear criticism under any circumstances. When the criticism is unfair, it’s especially hard because you are seeing your failure from a different perspective than your critic. Yet it makes no sense to be afraid of these kinds of things, and learning to deal with them proactively can be a huge boost to your own sense of self.
Is this your first time reading this blog? What do you think? Go ahead…I can take it.