Image Source: Odyssey
Right now the country has been effectively divided. Whether or not we agree with one another on any number of issues, folks towards the right or the left are barely able to converse. We have been split by those trying to remain in power because a divided population, while hurtful to us, is useful to them.
What does music have to teach us about how to overcome this kind of dreadful situation? Well, I don’t think most people in the arts are usually looking to divide anyone. But there is a good way and a bad way to think about performing.
The bad way is to see the audience as the enemy, or even as something to be conquered. If you’re afraid, you might be tempted to consider the audience a threat. If you do, the only way to perform successfully would be to defeat the threat by any means necessary.
You could show them who’s boss by being so awesome that they have to respect you. You could belittle them so that they know they can’t disrespect you. I suppose these things might ease your anxiety, and I’ve certainly seen performers do both.
But there’s a good way to look at performing, which is to see the audience as a group of people who have been artificially pitted against you: You are physically facing them; you are performing and they are giving feedback; you are expected to be there, and they are choosing to be. Your job then would be to redefine the situation so that you and the audience are on the same side.
Any great performer will do whatever they have to do to make the audience feel as though they are looking at the same thing as the performer and reacting to it together. The performer will redirect the audience to find a new “them,” whatever that is. Perhaps it’s injustice, perhaps it’s something to laugh about, and perhaps it’s the fight of beauty over despair and indifference.
Once the performer has the audience feeling like everyone’s in the circle, great things start to happen. The performer can both teach and learn, and the experiences are meaningfully shared by everyone. We can do this, even if we’re not performers.
If there are people in our lives who appear to be on the “other side,” we can show them that we are not on a different side at all, that we have been falsely identified as the enemy by a real adversary. If we can make that case, again and again, if we can convincingly identify who the real enemy is, poverty, unethical behavior, profiteering, and those who support these ideas, then we are on the way to at least having a real conversation. Incredibly, we may actually be able to partner with those who have been led by politics, circumstances, and even internet algorithms, to believe that they are in a different world from us.
I am telling you now that these people on the other side are not the enemy. The enemy is the person who put them on the other side from you. Are you with me?