Today’s guest contribution is by renowned scholar Professor John Sloboda, a leading writer on the psychology of music, Emeritus Professor at Keele University and Research Professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Here he introduces research into Understanding Audiences and post concert events which allow creative musicians to elicit feedback from audience members in a constructive environment.
Those of us who plan live events with care and attention may heave a sigh of relief as the final applause dies down, and consider our work for the evening is done. We are happy to head to the bar or the train, leaving the venue just as one leaves the office.
Yet by relaxing into this post-concert moment we may be missing one of the most important opportunities to add significant value to the live event for all concerned.
Almost everyone in the room, whether composer, performer, or audience member is going to be heading out of the room with thoughts about what they have just experienced. If they are in company some of their thoughts might be shared with their immediate companions, but unless they are in the business of professional opinion forming (e.g. critic or teacher) their thoughts may float away, half-formed, and mixed up with the bustle of heading wherever they are going next. Their thoughts will certainly not find their way back to those for whom such thoughts are going to be of the most interest, those who made the music.
From time to time event organizers do the less usual thing of inviting performers and audience to stay behind and talk to each other. One reason why it is not done more often probably relates to an understandable resistance on the part of performers to remain on stage. Surely once they’ve played the music, their job is over! Why subject themselves to intrusive (or ill-informed) questions, or – even worse – to gratuitous negativity?
Such misgivings probably arise from witnessing less than ideal post-concert events. Good and useful post-performance events need careful planning and chairing, just as careful as the performance itself. Not all events live up to their potential, and performers may come to feel resentful of the time taken up in activities which are at a much lower level of polish or insight than the music that they have just offered.
One way of increasing the value of these events is to turn the tables, so that it is not a question of the audience “asking the performers” but is quite explicitly about the performers “asking the audience”. In a series of pilot research studies undertaken within the Understanding Audiences Programme at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama over the last year, we have been working with creative musicians to plan and curate post-concert events where the agenda is the one that they themselves set, posing the audience questions to which they really want to know the answer.
In that way, the audience is drawn into a relationship with the performers which is one of valued consultants. Our experience from the six events we have so far facilitated is that audience members are thankful to be offered this role, it motivates them to engage more deeply with the performance, and that they go out of their way to offer clear and productive feedback. When an atmosphere of productive co-operation is established through clear explanation of the purpose of the event, then a powerful dialogue can take place.
Our preliminary findings also show that musicians can be positively affected by these events in unexpected ways. Not only do they get useful answers to the specific questions they pose, but they very often experience a heightened sense of connection to, and response from, their audience during the performance itself.
Our findings are currently being shared in conference and seminar settings while we prepare more detailed reports for peer review and academic publication. But alongside this, we also very much want to hear from people in the live music business who have put on, or have attended, productive and useful post-concert events. There is undoubtedly good practice in the profession, but a lot of that practice goes unrecorded and unknown beyond the few lucky people who happened to attend. We’d like to champion and promote good practice wherever it is found, so that post-performance events become a more usual part of the concert scene. We think audiences want it, and that – when they see the benefits – so will musicians.
Please feel free to share your experiences and observations with us.
Professor John Sloboda