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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Filtering by Category: Regular

Things I Did in College Which Most Prepared Me for My Career in Music: Played for Every Professional Player That Passed Through Town (4 of 5)

Andrew Hitz

Something I was taught at a very early age was to try and play for every single professional that came anywhere near my hometown.  Sometimes this was in master classes and other times this was in private lessons.  Performing in front of as many professionals as possible was immensely important in me gaining the confidence to play at my best in a wide a range of circumstances.

Master classes are the easiest place for a college student to gain access, even if only briefly, to a professional traveling through town.  It was my experience that a visiting artist could say the exact same thing that my teacher had been saying all along but in just a slightly different manner and it would make everything click in my mind.

I am always telling my students that all performing and teaching, both good and bad, counts as “data” that helps to mold me as a musician.  If I hear a concept put in a way that makes a lot of sense I am of course sure to share that with my students.  Likewise, if someone teaches something in a manner which doesn’t click with me or that I disagree with it only serves to strengthen my own point of view.  Keeping this in mind, any master class that I ever attend is worth my time.  Always.  And any great teacher will address exactly what you personally need to hear if they hear you play.

When I was a young student I was taught a great trick when someone was listening to multiple students play in a master class.  Always volunteer to play first.

There are a few reasons for this. First of all, when conducting a master class it can be very difficult to keep track of time when working with students. If a teacher does not manage their time well the student playing at the beginning of the class will always get more time and not less time.  It is very difficult to stick to time slots as a teacher and the people playing at the end are always the ones that are affected.

Another equally important reason is that it is natural to be distracted and nervous until you get in front of the group to play.  You are going to retain very little information that is given to the players who play before you.  If you volunteer to play first, you can simply relax, take notes, and learn from all of the people that come after you.  Sometimes the information that is shared without you being on the hot seat can make the biggest impression.

I always raised my hand immediately in every single master class whether I felt like playing that day or not.  As a result, I played in every class, got at least as much time as everyone else that played, and was able to focus on the teaching and not myself for the remainder of the class.

Finally, it is great to be able to get a private lesson with someone passing through town.  Speaking from experience, my schedule rarely allows time to meet with people individually but there is a trick to increasing your chances of hearing a “yes” when asking for a lesson.

First of all, contact the person before they come to your town or school.  This has never been easier with email, twitter, facebook, etc.  If you can’t find them through any of those channels then simply ask your teacher if they might know their info.  It is a lot easier for me to schedule my day around giving a student a lesson if they contact me ahead of time.

Second, you should always offer to pay someone for their time.  Frequently, when a student asks a traveling professional for a lesson and offers to pay them they will teach them for free.  This is not always the case but it definitely sends the wrong message to not offer to pay someone for their time.  Even if you are very up front in stating that you have no money and understand that you wouldn’t expect them to be able to teach you, this will be received well.  It might not get you a lesson, but you will leave a good impression in a business where are impressions are imperative.

Things I Did in College Which Most Prepared Me for My Career in Music: Treat Every Rehearsal and Concert Like It's a Paying Gig (3 of 5)

Andrew Hitz

One of the best things that both Rex Martin and Sam Pilafian did for me when I was in college was prepare me for that scary three word phrase that collegiate music teachers like to throw around to scare their students: the real world.

The professional music world is an incredibly straight forward one in almost all respects.  There is no secret to unlock that enables you to function in this business.  The good news is that almost all of it is simply common sense.  But this straight forward world is incredibly unforgiving when you mess up.  There have never been a greater number of highly qualified players to take your place if you are not getting the job done than at any time in history.  That means that you not only have to play well but also need to be the consumate professional to put yourself in the best position possible to get or keep gigs.

The list of things that you have to do is quite simple and well known.  The challenge is fully implimenting this list while you are still in school.  It is very difficult to flip a switch the moment you are handed your diploma and suddenly start acting like a professional.

How you treat rehearsals and concerts is only a part of what goes into being a professional but it is certainly one of the most important.  A college student should never walk into a rehearsal or gig the moment it is scheduled to begin. If you do that on a professional gig you won’t ever be called again.  Are you the person who has a pencil at every rehearsal or are you the one that asks the guy next to you to use his 20 times a rehearsal? Are you person who forgets their bowtie? If you are using an excuse for being late to a rehearsal would you use that same excuse if the rehearsal was with the New York Philharmonic or would you find a way to get there? Would you have practiced more for a rehearsal if you were subbing with the Boston Brass?

The reputation you develop while you are in music school, good or bad, will follow you for the rest of your career.  Music has always been a word of mouth business.  People will only recommend you to a colleague when they know that you will play well and be a professional.  Otherwise, it will reflect poorly on them for making the recommendation in the first place.

I close with a story from my sophomore year at Northwestern.  One morning I went to take a shower and accidentally locked myself out of my room wearing nothing but a towel in the middle of a Chicago winter (sorry for the visual).  I called the RA on duty and got an answering machine.  I then called Mr. Martin to explain that I would possibly be late to brass choir rehearsal which started 25 minutes later.  I gave him the full story with every single detail and appologized for possibly being late.  He then calmly said: “See you at 12:15 sharp”.

At this point I sprung into action, determined to get there just to show him that I could do it.  I borrowed my neighbors clothes (who was a full 8 inches shorter and at least 2 shoe sizes smaller than me!) and ran, without a coat, across campus to interupt my roommates music theory class to get his key.  If I had been going downtown to sub with the Chicago Symphony I would have done that before calling and explaining that I might be late.  Mr. Martin made a truly lasting impression with me that day.   He walked in at 12:15 to lead the rehearsal, looked back and saw me seated, and gave me the smallest nod you can imagine.

The sooner you can treat all playing engagements of any kind like gigs the better off you will be when you enter the real world.

Things I Did in College Which Most Prepared Me for My Career in Music: See Lots of Live Music (2 of 5)

Andrew Hitz

Any music student knows that it is their job to listen to music.  This will not be news to anyone.  Along with practicing, this is the most basic level of homework for any musician.  Listening to great music both reminds us of what is possible and of why we do what we do.  These are great lessons that even the best musicians in the world must be reminded of from time to time.  Listening to music live is the best way to learn these lessons.

Seeing live performances has been a passion of mine from a very early age.  While listening to a recording of great music is a wonderful and valuable experience, there is something special about watching that music being made right in front of your eyes.

Any great performance that I have experienced is a conversation between the artist and their audience.  The conversation may look quite different at a Larry Combs recital than it will at an AC/DC concert but they are both conversations.  All great performers feed off of the energies of both the audience and the moment.  This is something that is very difficult to write or talk about and yet incredibly easy to understand when experienced.

Seeing live music is the best way for music students to be reminded that their performances are in fact collaborations with both their fellow performers and the audience.  My number one criticism of students performing juries tends to be that they are not speaking to me as an audience member.  Many students, through lack of experience, walk on stage and have a musical conversation with themselves while the faculty watches.  Frequently, the conversation doesn’t even include the piano player!

During my time at both Northwestern and Arizona State I literally saw a few hundred live concerts. Some of them were life changing, like the first time I saw the band Phish.  Others were average at best and nothing that I ran home to tell my roommates about.  At one point in my life I felt that only witnessing great music would directly influence my musical personality in any significant way.  This is not true! Every time I hear anyone play any note or phrase I am filing it away under something I want to sound like or something I don’t want to sound like.  A bad performance can only reinforce your musical opinion and that is a very good thing.

I also found it beneficial to occasionally take a step back and analyze a performance for such things as programming, stage presence, program notes, etc.  You can use all of that information, both good and bad, to help you with everything from how you conduct yourself in a jury to how to plan a recital program.  The best performers in the world have put a lot of time and thought into every aspect of their performance.  This is much easier to experience and truly grasp in a live setting than read about in a blog like this!

Finally, money is certainly tight for just about any college music student. But if you aren’t doing your homework, someone somewhere is.  I made some sacrifices in college that enabled me to spend quite a large percentage of my disposable income on seeing live music.  This included occasionally traveling a very long distance to see it as well.   My first trip to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival were three days that shaped my musical personality in ways that can not be described.  Sure, I was eating bagels without cream cheese and steamed broccoli with rice for a month afterward because I was so broke but I would do it all over again a thousand times over! Sitting 10 feet away from Lionel Hampton was worth checking the couch for loose change when I got home!


Next: Treat Every Rehearsal and Concert Like It Was a Paying Gig

Things I Did in College Which Most Prepared Me for My Career in Music: Practice Sight-Reading (1 of 5)

Andrew Hitz

The skill I developed during college from which I have profited the most is practicing sight-reading.  As with many musicians who got their “break” from being a sub, I didn’t have much time to be able to prepare for my first ever gig with Boston Brass.  Filling in for someone in an emergency is by far the most frequent reason for someone getting a call to sit in with an ensemble, large or small.  And most emergencies don’t happen well in advance! In January of 2000, my graduate school teacher, Sam Pilafian, got a call from a member of Boston Brass explaining that their tuba player had become very ill and couldn’t make their trip to Colorado to perform at the CMEA.  They called to check his availability.   Luckily for me, Sam was busy and he gave them my name along with a strong recommendation.  He later told me he mentioned to them that I was professional (more on that in another post) and that I could sightread anything.   I got the call at 10pm and was checking in at the airport to fly to Colorado at 5am the next day.

My ability to sight-read well came from years of practice at the insistence of Rex Martin during my time at Northwestern.   As many of you know, I have an amount of respect for Mr. Martin that I could not possibly put into words in a blog post and received an education from him that I feel was second to none.   And the thing I am most thankful for from his tutelage was his insistence on me improving my sight-reading skills.

He asked me if I practiced sight-reading regularly.  I told him I did.   He then asked me if I borrowed music from other students who played a variety of instruments on a regular basis.  He then simply smiled and said that I needed to work on my sight-reading every day if possible.

It was very easy to simply knock on the practice room door next to mine and ask that person if there was an etude book I could borrow for 10 minutes.  The to practicing sight-reading is to open the book, look at the page for 30 seconds, and then play it down from top to bottom.   Do not stop for any reason at all.  There is a very specific order of things to examine in a piece of music when sight-reading which I will get into in a future post.  But remember above everything else that you are making music, even when reading something for the first time.

Remember that as musicians we are storytellers.  Sadly, most musicians tell an incredibly boring story even when they are hitting all the right notes and playing all the right rhythms.   Even a talented sight-reader in college frequently sounds like they are simply doing a math problem.

By regularly sight-reading music from other students and holding myself to an incredibly high standard I began to improve at a very rapid rate.   Sight-reading started to become a strength.   There is not a faster way that I have found in my 18 years of teaching to get a kid to stare at the floor and slouch their shoulders than asking them if they are good at sight-reading.  This is an opportunity! You can make sight-reading a calling card!  This might be the fastest way to separate yourself from the pack.  If you develop a reputation while you are still in school for being able to sightread anything you will reap the benefits later in your career, either as a teacher or a performer.

Finally, if you are reading this and thinking “but I hate sight-reading,” keep one thing in mind.  Rarely do people hate performing tasks they are good at!  The more proficient you become at something, the more you will enjoy it.  Practice sight-reading regularly and you will be very happy with the results.  My job the last ten years with Boston Brass has been directly related to my ability to sight-read in many different styles in front of 1200 music educators that night in Colorado – and that all came from lots and lots of practice.

(Thank you Mr. Martin!)

Five Things I Would Do Differently As A College Student: Regularly Attend Master Classes and Recitals of Other Studios (5 of 5)

Andrew Hitz

Over the years, the “tuba in my head” that Arnold Jacobs often spoke of has been shaped and influenced by many different sources.   Whether it was Chester Schmitz and Sam Pilafian growing up (and still to this day!) or Alessandro Fossi and Tom McCaslin today, great tuba players help to show me what is possible on my instrument.  Regularly hearing people do things on the tuba that I am not capable of playing help keep a fire lit under me to be the absolute best musician I can be.

But looking back on my development as a musician, people playing different instruments may have had an even greater influence on my playing than other tuba players.  The ‘tuba in my head’ models its phrasing after a great singer like Jesse Norman.  I model my rhythmic intensity after the incomparable pianist Glenn Gould and my technique after the great violinist Jascha Heifetz.

The things that are difficult on a tuba and on a violin are not the same.  I have been blessed with teachers throughout my life that have never let me accept the limitations of my instrument.   Sometimes, recognizing these limitations is easiest when regularly attending the performances and master classes of other instruments.  This will never be easier than during music school.

I would be very surprised if any teacher at a music school, when approached politely beforehand, would deny a request for you to sit at the back of one of their master classes.  You can learn an awful lot watching a teacher of a different instrument work with their studio.  Take notes, and later apply it directly to your own playing.  This information is truly invaluable.

It is also a good idea to bring your instrument with you to the class.  Don’t ask to play and don’t interfere but you never know when you might be asked to participate.  That very thing happened to me in the mid ’90s when I went to a horn master class conducted by Eric Ruske at Boston University.   At the end of the class, there were no more horn players prepared to play and he asked if I wanted to.  It was a truly amazing experience.  He could not have possibly cared any less about what was difficult on the tuba.  He simply wanted ‘Fountains of Rome’ to sound easy and had a unique perspective on it.   I don’t remember learning more in 10 minutes in my entire career.

In retrospect, I really wish that I had attended significantly more recitals in my time at Northwestern.  It turns out I largely took for granted the amazing musicians I was surrounded by.  I already learned a lot by sitting next to them and playing with them in ensembles but to see them take center stage in a recital format would have been very educational.

After all, if you want to hear great phrasing, go straight to the source.   Attend a vocal recital!  If you want to hear a great interpretation of the Bach Cello Suites, with all due respect to the rest of us, go hear a cello play it!

Be sure to take full advantage of all of those around you.  You will never again be in such close proximity to so many musicians with so much to offer your musical development.

Next Week: Five Things I Did In College Which Prepared Me for a Career in Music

Five Things I Would Do Differently As A College Student: Play More Chamber Music (4 of 5)

Andrew Hitz

Chamber music, or simply music with only one person to a part, is one of the best ways to develop musical independence.   This is especially true for someone like myself playing an instrument like the tuba.   While there were certainly difficult parts that I encountered in the Wind Ensemble and the Symphony Orchestra at Northwestern, as a tuba player the most challenging parts I played were in chamber settings.

The first time I heard the Empire Brass Quintet in 1988, the tuba playing of Sam Pilafian changed my life.  At the time, I did not realize that my instrument was capable of doing what I saw him accomplish right before my very eyes.   I wanted to play in a brass quintet starting that very night! My freshman year, fresh off of four straight summers of working with Sam at the Boston University Tanglewood Institute, my friends and I formed a brass quintet.  We really had a great time musically and socially.

You learn pretty quickly that over half the battle of having a chamber group, especially one just getting started, is balancing five schedules and five personalities.  Our group played for the better part of our freshman year and then eventually disbanded when it became too difficult to coordinate.   I can’t speak for the other four guys but I really wish that we had stuck it out and kept playing.   I learned A TON from playing with those guys who all had different strengths and different weaknesses than me.   Ultimately, we were too young to keep the thing going and left on good terms but I think we all left a lot of learning on the table by cutting our experience short.

I also played in a tuba quartet my sophomore year with three of my best friends.   This group was formed for the purpose of competing in the tuba quartet competition at the International Tuba and Euphonium Conference that was being hosted at Northwestern.   I would highly encourage any collegiate chamber groups to find a competition to enter because it was a great source of focus.   It is a lot easier to add an extra rehearsal in any given week to everyone’s busy schedule when you have a specific goal and deadline in mind.   Unlike the University of Arizona’s tuba quartet at this year’s ITEC, we weren’t able to win the competition on “home turf” but it was a great learning and bonding experience for the four of us.

I also wish that we had kept that group going for a longer period of time.   At that point in my life, I took being in situations like that quartet where I was learning so much and being challenged so much for granted.   Sadly, even if you go on to a career performing in music many people will tell you that there are some very famous jobs out there that won’t really, truly challenge you all that often.  You will never be at a point in your life where it is easier to arrange playing chamber music than your time in college.

Finally, keep in mind that simply playing duets is a form of chamber music too.   I learned more than I could get into in a single blog post from playing duets regularly with Andy Bove of the Extension Ensemble.   The shame is that I didn’t take the obvious opportunity to ask flutists, violinists, percussionists, and singers to join me for some duets.   All you need is the music, the ability to play in all clefs, and to start knocking on practice room doors.   To match the ease of a good violinist in a technical duet on the trombone or tuba is an learning experience worth thousands of words.

If you can find the time and the energy to organize a chamber group, it will pay dividends in your playing like you wouldn’t believe and college is time to take advantage of all the musicians in your immediate vicinity.

Tomorrow: Regularly Attend Master Classes and Recitals of Other Studios

Five Things I Would Do Differently As A College Student: Take Notes at Every Master Class and after Every Lesson (3 of 5)

Andrew Hitz

In April of 1995 I took the El to downtown Chicago and had the privilege of having a lesson with the incomparable Arnold Jacobs. It was the only lesson that I had the honor of taking with Mr. Jacobs and it was as good as advertised. I am thankful to this day that I had the presence of mind to write down every single thing that I remembered him saying in that lesson the second I got on the train to head back to Evanston. I still have and cherish that piece of paper today. In a testament to the teaching abilities of Mr. Jacobs (or a sign that I have made absolutely ZERO progress in 15 years!) he touched on all of the headlines that I am still working on to this day.

I wish that I had also taken notes at all of the weekly studio classes at Northwestern. I remember an awful lot of the material that Rex Martin covered in those classes. However, there is no question that I would remember a lot more if I had been able to revisit the material throughout the years. If you archive a full four years worth of master classes from your undergraduate degree there will not be a single major musical topic that is not covered in detail. What a resource!

Like with recording yourself, technology nowadays makes not only taking notes but also organizing and archiving them incredibly easy. An important part of my continued development as a musician is attending master classes as often as possible. In the last couple of years I have the pleasure of attending classes by Joe Alessi, Marty Hackleman, Carol Jantsch, Sam Pilafian, Pat Sheridan, Jim Self and Michael Davis. I have taken notes at every one of these classes.

For some of these I simply used pen and paper which can be the fastest way for me to jot down notes. Other times I have used my iPhone to input directly into a notes program. And some I have “live tweeted” ( meaning sharing quotes in real time with my twitter followers.

A huge benefit for you as both a player and a performer is saving your notes for future reference. Google Docs is an example of a program which is free and very easy to use. Also, I am fairly certain that Google isn’t going anywhere anytime soon so any data that you save on their servers should be around for a very long time. They also make it very easy to export anything from your account if you choose to move it in the future. This program allows you to make lists, spreadsheets, and a lot more.

Another tool I use is Evernote. Evernote is free program which also offers a premium level for about $50/year offering more storage and added functionality. Anytime I get a handout at a conference or a master class I take a photo of it and email it to Evernote. It then turns the handout into a searchable PDF and archives it. I didn’t even know that you can search photographs for words in a program like this. It is pretty amazing!

Anything stored electronically in a program like Google Docs or Evernote is completely searchable which is just as powerful as it sounds. Imagine being able to search four years worth of undergraduate master classes for the word ‘breathing’ to see every reference that your teacher made to the subject during your entire degree! Any notes that I have taken the past couple of years I have stored online so that I have them forever and I can access them anywhere in the world there is an internet connection. In fact, I just accessed some music last week on the road in Japan using Evernote. Have an interview for a teaching position somewhere? You can easily review any notes you’ve taken from anywhere in the world.

Imagine how prepared you would be for your junior year if before the start of the school year you took half an hour and read the notes from all of your lessons and master classes from your sophomore year. College goes by faster than anyone can believe. Maximize your time there!

Tomorrow: Play More Chamber Music

Five Things I Would Do Differently As A College Student: Take Piano More Seriously (2 of 5)

Andrew Hitz

If any of my fellow NU alums who were in Keyboard Skills class with me are reading this they are probably laughing right now. That is because it wouldn’t be hard for me to take piano more seriously if I did it over again! I had all the answers back then (back then?) and I did not see how the piano was going to help me become the next Sam Pilafian or Warren Deck. If only I could have known how helpful having piano skills would be in many different aspects of my career.

At the International Tuba and Euphonium Conference this summer in Tucson I attended a fantastic master class by the great Jim Self. He has had one of the most diverse, and in my opinion coolest, careers of any tuba player I know. His master class was the inspiration for this series of posts. He spoke of three things that he wished he could do over again in his career. One of them was to learn how to play the piano.

Learning the piano is a great way for many musicians to become proficient at a second clef like I did. I could identify notes written in treble clef but my ability to make music, especially on my primary instrument, written in a clef other than bass went up exponentially. This opened up an enormous amount of music for me to be able to play on the tuba.  This includes the possibility of borrowing music from treble clef colleagues on a regular basis to practice sight reading which I will talk about next week.

Using a keyboard is also a great way to input music into Finale or Sibelius. The ability to play a chord progression on the piano is incredibly helpful when either arranging or composing music. You don’t need to sound like Glenn Gould or Vladimir Horowitz to make this a very useable skill.

Finally, having a basic ability level on the piano is invaluable to learning how to improvise. Whether playing a chord progression or playing along with a solo you are learning by ear the piano will be involved somehow in almost every aspect of becoming proficient in the language of jazz or any other form of improvisation.

Just about any music degree requires you to take some piano classes. You might as well utilize the time you are required to set aside rather than simply creating extra work down the road. I would know!

Tomorrow: Take Notes at Every Master Class

Five Things I Would Do Differently as a College Student: Record Myself Significantly More (1 of 5)

Andrew Hitz

As another school year got underway and I began two new college teaching jobs I found myself thinking back on my time as an undergrad at Northwestern University. I learned an amazing amount in my four years there while studying with Rex Martin. He was the right teacher at the right time for me and I still rely on the musical foundation he built for me some 15 years ago on a daily basis.

However, as with all aspects of life, the older I get the more I realize that there are some things I would do differently if I were to experience my undergraduate studies again. I have decided to compile a list of the five things that I would do differently if I went back to Northwestern and did it all over again.

That being said, time has also shown me a number of things which I did during my studies which prepared me quite well for the career that I have had thus far in the music business. These are naturally things that I would be sure to do again. We can of course learn from our mistakes but also from our successes, both as musicians and in life.

I will post the five things I would do differently each day this week and then follow that up with the five things I would keep just as they were next week. I hope you enjoy this topic as much as I’ve enjoyed brainstorming about it!

Five Things I Would Do Differently as a College Student: Record Myself Playing Significantly More

If there was only one thing that I could go back and “do over” from my undergraduate studies at Northwestern it would be to record myself playing a lot more frequently. I did it from time to time but not nearly as often as I should have. My tuba teacher, Rex Martin, told me to record myself all the time but I took his advice only a fraction of the time. Turns out, he knew what he was talking about!

The greatest teachers in the world can’t teach you some of the things that you can teach yourself by simply listening to your own recording. There is a lot of data coming out of your bell that no human being, no matter how talented, can pick up while in the process of playing the instrument. As the saying goes: “the tape doesn’t lie”.

Many students listen to recordings of themselves in concerts and public events but this alone is not enough. Practice sessions should regularly be recorded and listened to in addition to lessons, master classes, and rehearsals. Any opportunity to get feedback, both positive and negative, should not be wasted.

I was once giving a master class with Joe Alessi in which he was asked his advice on how to prepare for an audition. One of the things that stood out to me from his answer was that a candidate should spend equal amount of time listening to themselves on tape as they do practicing while getting ready for an audition. To drive home that point, he reiterated that if you practice your excerpts for two hours you should listen to a recording of yourself playing the material for a full two hours the same day.

With recent advances in technology, it has never been easier to both record yourself and to play it back. Many students have smart phones (like the iPhone or Droid) which have free programs (such as Blue FIRe) which utilize the microphone already included on the phone. It is quite easy to convert any file to mp3 format which can then be played on a portable music device (such as an iPod) which any college music major must own. I promise you, your teacher did not have the ability to listen to their practice session on the walk back to their dorm from a phone in their pocket!

It is important to note that you do not need an expensive microphone or any fancy equipment to learn a lot from your recording. Keep in mind that it will not sound as good as a heavily edited and remastered professional recording. But it doesn’t need be professional quality to learn a lot from it. I promise you…..if you hear yourself chop off a note early in order to take a breath one time on tape you won’t do it again. You don’t need a great sounding recording to hear something like that.

Finally, if you have never heard a recording of yourself be prepared to not like what you hear the first time. But don’t be discouraged! I don’t know a single musician who loved the first recording they ever heard of themselves. In addition to hearing your mistakes be sure to also do what Arnold Jacobs always used to preach: catch yourself doing something right. We need to quantify the good things in our playing so that we are sure to do them again.

Tomorrow: Take Piano More Seriously

Lance LaDuke: Three Tips for Talking to Audiences

Andrew Hitz

(This is reprinted with Lance’s permission and originally appeared at

Um, I’d like to, um talk, you know about er, um, oh you know, like, talking to audiences and stuff.


Can’t wait to hear more?

Didn’t think so.

As musicians, we sometimes feel that we can just let the music speak for itself. There is no need for us to sully our performances with speaking. We practice for hours, perfecting every phrase, every nuance, striving for an ideal performance. Then we adopt a “play it and they will come” mentality. Since we’re God’s gift, people will instantly respond to our every phrase and nuance; we’re just that good. Adulation, groupies and a tour bus are all in our near future.

Other times we feel insecure in performance. Will it go as planned? Will the audience like the piece or program? I hate speaking to crowds. I don’t know what to say. Will they throw vegetables? If so, will there be enough to serve at the reception?

Whatever the reason, it has become increasingly common (and in some cases expected) for musicians to speak to their audiences. While this can seem beneath some of us, and terrifying to others, it needn’t be either.

Audiences want to connect with performers. Programs, bios and notes provide data but not personality. There are many potential reasons (the de-formalization of  performances, the rise of reality programming and the connective possibilities of the internet, to name a few). The fact remains that many (most?) most conductors, soloists and chamber musicians will have to “face the music” and speak to the folks who have paid to come hear them play.

Fortunately, audiences have very simple needs. SO STAND UP, TURN ON THE MIC, AND ANSWER THESE THREE QUESTIONS:


We see your name in the program and read your bio. BUT if you’re a chamber group, introduce the players (so we can connect the names to faces) and let us know something about them. If you’re a soloist, tell us something that happened to you today in our city or at our venue or comment on something that happened in the world that may be on everyone’s mind. Not a lecture, a minute or two. Break the ice. Think dinner party.


Remind us. Don’t just read the program to us but give us a framework to help us get a head start on what we’re about to hear. Set the table for us.  This is especially helpful if the composer is less familiar to a general audience. This can take less than a minute


Is there an interesting story about the composer or the piece? Why did you select it? Is there anything in particular we should listen for? One to two minutes should do it.

Tailor the talk to your style. If you’re funny, let it be funny. If the piece is serious, let it be serious. DON’T read a script. If you need notes, fine, but talk TO the people who have come to hear you and BE YOURSELF!


It’s really that simple. We don’t need a twenty-minute lecture. We DID come to hear you play. We just want to know WHO YOU ARE, WHAT YOU’RE PLAYING AND WHY WE SHOULD CARE.

See you at the reception.

I hear there are plenty of veggies.