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I am interested in why one performance grabs you attention the entire time, and others don't. I see about 10 symphony concerts a year, 4 big name jazz shows, go to a jazz club once a month, and about 4 times a year i am able to see more nontraditional music. in almost all the shows there comes a point where is top paying attention, it rarely has to do with the quality of music, and sometimes i can't wait to leave. but atleast twice a year i see something that truly holds my interest the entire time. Much in the way that a cd can be well put to gether annd organized in a way where you engaged throughout its entirety an concert can do the same.

I dont think that the quality of composition and playing are the most important factors in a concert. i saw Houlik play a concert for 2 hours solo, the music and performance were unreal, but I didn't feel engaged the entire time. conversely i saw Phillipe Geiss play an hour long concert were he talked about his music and even though compared to the quality of music that was put out at other shows, i found him much more engaging to watch and listen to.

I want to explore with you folks on sax on the web what the similarities and differences are between engaging and no engaging concerts. this could include showmanship, program, quality of playing, your mood, anything. I think we have to collective experience here to come to some thought provoking conclusions
 

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Big question!
I suppose sometime people are fascinating just to watch, people who are different or attractive. Mostly, for me, talent holds my attention. It affects me deeply when I hear a superb musician, especially if they are able to transfer their emotions into their instrument.
I was lucky enough to hear a jazz pianist here playing at the Novatel Hotel recently. His playing made me cry (in a good way) I've also been lucky enough to sing jazz with him recently. We hope to do some gigs together soon. I also think, if you play with people that good, it kind of raises you to a higher level, too. That's the real buzz........................

I'd also add, that sometimes it depends on our own mood, as to how we perceive the music. Sometimes as Ella says in 'Angel Eyes': ''Drink up all you happy people, the laughs and the joke's on me''
Good topic though.
 

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If you are asking for comments on what makes a performance engaging then it really comes down to one thing in my opinion and that is having the ability to transcend that boundary between “stage” and “audience”.

If I think of the performances that have had a profound impact on me, then that is one thing they have all had in common. Albeit some have achieved this in different ways.

Branford Marsalis Quartet - Group improvisation was the best I have seen bar none.

Paul Simon featuring Michael Brecker - Musical brilliance of all.

Sting - Ten Summoners Tales Band (Sting, Miller, Sancious, Colliuta) - The Ability to re-harmonize popular standards and perform the brilliantly live.
 

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There might not be a more subjective question.

The above list by our Australian friend probably wouldn't hold my interest for more than a few seconds, and I'm sure I've seen some things that left me absolutely stupefied that would bore him to tears.

Try as I might, I am at a loss for words as to how to explain what makes an engaging peformer, strictly from my own experience as a discerning audience member. I guess it's like what a historical supreme court justice said about obscene material, "You know it when you see it".
 

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An excellent thread. I think that in music there are the four dimensions of this world and then there is a fifth artistic dimension that is transcendent. There are a few musicians I know who have this. One, a professional guitarist, will try out a guitar in the shop and play a few chords, that we all could play, and every other customer and the assistants turn around to listen and watch.
Another is a classical saxophone player. We were doing a recording with a string ensemble and soprano saxophone, and one of the violinists invited a professional photographer to come to photograph the session. The first thing the photographer asked as he entered the church was 'who is that musician playing the trumpet-like instrument, it is astounding, I've never heard anything like it'.
There is a magical quality that comes over with the music, a communication that is above technique, sound and notes; I believe it is to do with conviction, honesty, spirituality, genuineness, and a complete and utter dedication to your instrument and music. I sincerely hope this doesn't come over as snobbish but now when I do recordings I only use musicians that I sense have this magical quality.
I first really noticed this when I became bored with the blues which I used to love at school, I just assumed I had moved along and was no longer interested. Then I accidentally heard an old master bluesman on the radio ; the first four bars were him singing "You know how it feels" followed by two notes on the guitar. That was all that was needed, just perfect blues from a master and I realised I had not lost interest, I had just heard a lot of blues that did not have this conviction.
When I write music now, I no longer think so much about technical innovation, formal sophistication etc., I think about the transcendental quality (I am not saying I succeed of course). The great bluesmen have it, some psych folk singers can have it, all the great musicians in all styles have this transcendental quality; this is what I think we must all emulate. In the same way as the atom contains smaller things, protons and neutrons etc., I think even one note contains other elements that we sense but almost can't analyze.
 

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An excellent thread. I think that in music there are the four dimensions of this world and then there is a fifth artistic dimension that is transcendent.
Ian thats an excellent analogy. In fact its better than mine and probably galvanizes it for me. Its the 5th dimension - Almost like the matrix if you like - The ability to walk through walls musically. Thats the fifth dimension you talk about.
 

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Interesting question. During my brief time as a University lecturer in performance it became necessary to actually try to analyse this . And I agree with other posters much can be very subjective and much can be very hard to pin down.

But with this kind of thing you have to try to take out as much of the subjectivity as possible, a student band needs to know why they got a certain mark, and what they can improve about their performance.

We used various criteria, obviously musical technique and expression came into it, but the other elements were:

  • Image (or deportment). This can go beyond what you are wearing, it includes the way you hold your instrument, the way you walk/run/dance/stand, coping with mistakes/disasters.
  • Production. This includes the way a set is put together, the tunes, the order and variety of tunes, any stage props or lighting you have organised.
  • Engagement with the audience. Smiling, talking, frowning, joking, eye contact
  • Information: programme notes or telling the audience what you are playing, why you are playing it.
  • Communication with other band members. Cues, conducting, listening, looking.
  • Playing Technique, expression,

What we found useful was to apply marks for each category (including technical mastery of the instrument) depending on the style of music. So for example a ska band could choose to have image and production weighted more heavily in the final assessment than technical mastery of their instrument.

Yes, this might sound a bit artificial, but it actually worked very well - ended up with a lot more "great performances" rather than the previous more typical student "recitals", the students were happy because they understood feedback based on this system rather than "well, we just didn't think it was that good...".

And best of all is seeing so many of them very quickly becoming successful performing and recording artists.
 

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Interesting question. During my brief time as a University lecturer in performance it became necessary to actually try to analyse this . And I agree with other posters much can be very subjective and much can be very hard to pin down.

But with this kind of thing you have to try to take out as much of the subjectivity as possible, a student band needs to know why they got a certain mark, and what they can improve about their performance.

We used various criteria, obviously musical technique and expression came into it, but the other elements were:

  • Image (or deportment). This can go beyond what you are wearing, it includes the way you hold your instrument, the way you walk/run/dance/stand, coping with mistakes/disasters.
  • Production. This includes the way a set is put together, the tunes, the order and variety of tunes, any stage props or lighting you have organised.
  • Engagement with the audience. Smiling, talking, frowning, joking, eye contact
  • Information: programme notes or telling the audience what you are playing, why you are playing it.
  • Communication with other band members. Cues, conducting, listening, looking.
  • Playing Technique, expression,


Yes, this might sound a bit artificial, but it actually worked very . . . . well "
I don't think its artificial at all. I think its a brilliant list of criteria that makes absolute sense, but even more so connects directly to the "5th Dimension" in a real way. I applaud you for including image, engagement and communication especially. Id love to know the process you went through to get to these. Bravo.
 

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I don't think its artificial at all. I think its a brilliant list of criteria that makes absolute sense, but even more so connects directly to the "5th Dimension" in a real way. I applaud you for including image, engagement and communication especially. Id love to know the process you went through to get to these. Bravo.
Yes, initially there was some resistance, especially when applying this to the more classical performances. (In which case it was deportment rather than image very often!)

The process was basically sitting down and thinking about what made it a good performance. Often watching videos. We noticed that might happen even if the player wasn't as good as another player.

There were obvious things such as what someone wears, or how confidently they move. But we noticed some less obvious things such as a quick glance or nod to another player or accompanist. Eye contact with the audience at strategic points in the performance. When you walk on is crucial. Often just looking at the audience as you walk on can get them on your side. Maybe a smile or wink if appropriate, a greeting, acknowledgment or "thanks for turning up in this horrible weather" type of thing.

One thing that this brings to mind which I didn't mention is getting over nerves. Audiences tend to feel uncomfortable about a nervous performance. It can really make a huge difference.
 

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In this day of modern recordings, we often have a good idea what to expect from a live performance. It always helps to smoke a joint before the concert!
 

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Interesting question. During my brief time as a University lecturer in performance it became necessary to actually try to analyse this . And I agree with other posters much can be very subjective and much can be very hard to pin down.

But with this kind of thing you have to try to take out as much of the subjectivity as possible, a student band needs to know why they got a certain mark, and what they can improve about their performance.

We used various criteria, obviously musical technique and expression came into it, but the other elements were:

  • Image (or deportment). This can go beyond what you are wearing, it includes the way you hold your instrument, the way you walk/run/dance/stand, coping with mistakes/disasters.
  • Production. This includes the way a set is put together, the tunes, the order and variety of tunes, any stage props or lighting you have organised.
  • Engagement with the audience. Smiling, talking, frowning, joking, eye contact
  • Information: programme notes or telling the audience what you are playing, why you are playing it.
  • Communication with other band members. Cues, conducting, listening, looking.
  • Playing Technique, expression,

What we found useful was to apply marks for each category (including technical mastery of the instrument) depending on the style of music. So for example a ska band could choose to have image and production weighted more heavily in the final assessment than technical mastery of their instrument.

Yes, this might sound a bit artificial, but it actually worked very well - ended up with a lot more "great performances" rather than the previous more typical student "recitals", the students were happy because they understood feedback based on this system rather than "well, we just didn't think it was that good...".

And best of all is seeing so many of them very quickly becoming successful performing and recording artists.
Excellent advice! which covers so many issues that are needed to become a good band,but as this points out its the genre" that will often dictate the finer points!,,ie a jazz band isn,t going to sell there selfs in the same image as a rock/metal band,.
 

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An excellent thread. I think that in music there are the four dimensions of this world and then there is a fifth artistic dimension that is transcendent. There are a few musicians I know who have this. One, a professional guitarist, will try out a guitar in the shop and play a few chords, that we all could play, and every other customer and the assistants turn around to listen and watch.
Another is a classical saxophone player. We were doing a recording with a string ensemble and soprano saxophone, and one of the violinists invited a professional photographer to come to photograph the session. The first thing the photographer asked as he entered the church was 'who is that musician playing the trumpet-like instrument, it is astounding, I've never heard anything like it'.
There is a magical quality that comes over with the music, a communication that is above technique, sound and notes; I believe it is to do with conviction, honesty, spirituality, genuineness, and a complete and utter dedication to your instrument and music. I sincerely hope this doesn't come over as snobbish but now when I do recordings I only use musicians that I sense have this magical quality.
I first really noticed this when I became bored with the blues which I used to love at school, I just assumed I had moved along and was no longer interested. Then I accidentally heard an old master bluesman on the radio ; the first four bars were him singing "You know how it feels" followed by two notes on the guitar. That was all that was needed, just perfect blues from a master and I realised I had not lost interest, I had just heard a lot of blues that did not have this conviction.
When I write music now, I no longer think so much about technical innovation, formal sophistication etc., I think about the transcendental quality (I am not saying I succeed of course). The great bluesmen have it, some psych folk singers can have it, all the great musicians in all styles have this transcendental quality; this is what I think we must all emulate. In the same way as the atom contains smaller things, protons and neutrons etc., I think even one note contains other elements that we sense but almost can't analyze.
Great post and Pete's too. I agree with the nerves thing, it makes others nervous.
Not quite sure how to deal with the audience here, when women are not supposed to talk to men they do not know. I guess, a smile works best. There are fairly strict rules on the interaction of men and women here. Hopefully, I'll find a friendly balance.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
These are very good comments, and ideas. so pete is saying that body language has a huge role to play. i saw a cellist plat the shostakovich and before he bowed the first note he gave the audiance an evil glare, and it set the mood of the piece perfectly. I think having music memorized has a huge part to play It removes a barrier from you and the audiance.

There are also in my belief is a pre-performance aspect as to weather the audiance comes, and what they come expecting. I have found as i listen to classical music that i enjoy the concert much more if i know the composer very well, or i know the piece. it give me a sentimental quality to the listening, and i usually hear things in the live performance that i cant hear on record.

there is also dreawing the right audiance to the show, some poeple will like a video game miusic concert just because of what it is, but my musican freids who went to see such a concert were unengaged and left the concert saying that they could have done a lot better.

You need to give the audiance a reason to come, and a certain element of satisfying their expectations of the performance, and at the same time surprising them with new twists and surprises that will trun on the crowd you invited.

Tim McCallister gave a masterclass at the symposium. He told the student to vary their style within a piece to keep the audiance interested in their playing as well as the composition. ie. varying the way you play legato between two legato sections in a piece, or the way you play fast in two sections of a piece.

check out this video it's an analysis of trent Reznor from NIN and how he engages audiances to come to his concerts and buy his cd's btw, you can download his cd for free, but people still buy them.

http://www.savvymusician.com/blog/2009/12/the-success-formula-for-selling-music/
 

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In this day of modern recordings, we often have a good idea what to expect from a live performance.
One of the professors here, our music technology professor, and I were talking about a topic very similar to this before the end of last semester. What he said was that people now, with the wealth of recordings available, are less likely to sit and be engaged for even 50 minutes of music. Not to say that this encompasses every listener or concert goer, but think about it. Now we're able to listen to things repeatedly, skip around and listen to parts out of sequence, etc. Back in the 17, 18, and 19th centuries (pre-recordings), if you wanted to hear music (of course once it was a public ordeal and not a private one), odds are that you'd go to a concert hall, sit through an orchestra or opera and odds are you would be totally immersed. Recordings aren't the only things that have pushed us away from this. Said professor said when he was in his undergrad, they had a class where all you did for 2 hours, twice a week, was critically listen to the longest pieces in the different musical periods. He said this class forced him to learn how to just sit and listen. Also, in our digital age, people just don't have patience anymore. With all of the leading technological developments around now, it's all about fast and faster and new and newer.

Now, most of what I have said is a bold generalization and doesn't encompass individual tastes in music or anything. It's just a summary of the arguments our music technology professor threw at me and I thought were interesting. For me, though, I need a performer to seem like they're engaged in the music. I want them to pull me in and to tell me what the music they're playing is, whether it be Brahms, Beethoven, Rzewski, Albright, Debussy or whoever. As long as they are confident in their playing and can portray that, odds are that I'll be engaged.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
One of the professors here, our music technology professor, and I were talking about a topic very similar to this before the end of last semester. What he said was that people now, with the wealth of recordings available, are less likely to sit and be engaged for even 50 minutes of music. Not to say that this encompasses every listener or concert goer, but think about it. Now we're able to listen to things repeatedly, skip around and listen to parts out of sequence, etc. Back in the 17, 18, and 19th centuries (pre-recordings), if you wanted to hear music (of course once it was a public ordeal and not a private one), odds are that you'd go to a concert hall, sit through an orchestra or opera and odds are you would be totally immersed. Recordings aren't the only things that have pushed us away from this. Said professor said when he was in his undergrad, they had a class where all you did for 2 hours, twice a week, was critically listen to the longest pieces in the different musical periods. He said this class forced him to learn how to just sit and listen. Also, in our digital age, people just don't have patience anymore. With all of the leading technological developments around now, it's all about fast and faster and new and newer.

Now, most of what I have said is a bold generalization and doesn't encompass individual tastes in music or anything. It's just a summary of the arguments our music technology professor threw at me and I thought were interesting. For me, though, I need a performer to seem like they're engaged in the music. I want them to pull me in and to tell me what the music they're playing is, whether it be Brahms, Beethoven, Rzewski, Albright, Debussy or whoever. As long as they are confident in their playing and can portray that, odds are that I'll be engaged.
that is an excellent point you bring up. I have seen people who look totally engaged in what they are doing but i hate what they are playing, its hard not to listen to them. I really like what was said about subtle body language. I don't think that it can be forced, but i think it can be learned. actors spend their lives doing that, although they are constantly trying to learn new sets of body language and gestures.

Who are some performers who when you watch them are communicating very well with their bodies. It would be very interesting to sit down with a great actor and observe the way that they communicate, and when they communicate.

I know this is a very objective sort of thing to talk about and there may not be any real answers, but we as musicians are used to thinking creatively and analyzing things. we all have sat down and analyzed recordings and the different ways that five people play the same thing, and what it makes us feel. i don't think it is out of the question for us to analyze five different people performing the same thing, of the same kind of thing and analyze their body language to see what is and isn't effective.
 

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Pete & Ian - thank you for your posts. Lot of food for thought in there. You both mention how some simple but often overlooked details can make the musical performance quite engaging. Perhaps individually the little things don't provide much effect. But, the sum total, taken together, add up to a substantial, qualitative effect!
 

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I agree with a lot said here: variety, meeting expectations, hearing music you know and love, engaged musicians etc. I do think as a musician there is a balance to be struck between being 'totally engaged' in what you are doing and not excluding the audience. I'm not sure how to meet that balance yet myself, but I guess I'll work out a comfortable level with practice. I also agree that people have been less disciplined over time to listening, unless they want to - it is less forced upon us these days. But, of course we can force it upon ourselves.
For myself I love to hear a song I know done well. Or, a new song done in the style I love. Or, if it's just damn good, a song done in any style.
 
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