The entertainment is in the presentation. ~John McTiernan
This morning we interviewed several string quartets for our upcoming Young Virtuosi music festival in July in the south of France. We held the auditions at the Royal College of Music in London in a nice room given to us by the head of the Strings Department. He even popped in at the beginning and end to get feedback and see how things went.
These were young musicians of college and post-graduate age who are serious about music as a career and our festival provides them with much-needed live audience performance platforms. And it is a gruelling schedule of 5 concerts in 6 days, with no repeat music. In addition to playing as a quartet they will also be broken up and paired with some of the younger students (12-16) in piano trios, duets and other combinations. Each person is also asked to have one or two solo pieces ready. All in all a demanding, yet rewarding schedule.
While some of the quartets were just recently formed (the last 5 months), others have been playing together for a while. And as you can imagine, the music was of a very high standard. But what struck me the most was not the technical skills nor the music interpretation, but their lack of professional presentation skills! On a scale of 1 to 10 the music was 7-9 and their presentation (appearance, audience awareness, speaking abilities, overall professional demeanor) was between 1-4!
In my years of working with executive teams and management groups, I have come away convinced that “presentation matters” and is as important to the audience as the quality of the information (or the music in this case) being presented. While executives are becoming aware of the importance of presentation and professional demeanour in their work, it doesn’t look like this is a big topic at music colleges. These young up-and-coming professionals don’t seem to have been taught (in their four years at music school) much about presentation (how they come across to the audience).
In the auditions they walked in, more like shuffled in, rattled around getting set up, were in various states of dress, hair not always neat and tidy. And when asked to talk about the music they will be playing, or to talk about themselves to the evaluators, there was very little eye contact, very little power in their voices, lots of giggling and looking at each other for approval, the usual plethora of “um’s and ah’s” and their speech was characterised by the modern youth language affliction of “like” and “you know”. The effect of all this lack of professional presentation skills is to take away from the power of the group as a whole and their music.
The reason people pay to attend a concert is not just to hear the music. Otherwise there would be an iPod on stage playing the most professional recording available. No, they come to see people, and not just how they interpret the music, but the package and the presentation as well. Are they alive and energetic, articulate, excited? Do they move as a unified group when they enter the stage, or straggle in like a collection of misfits? Are they well dressed and respectful of the audience? All these are the “little” but vitally important elements of a great performance.
I believe we are doing an injustice in our colleges and schools (and even in business classes) if we don’t help students understand and appreciate the power of presentation. Presentation skills add value to everything we do in life, so why not learn them at an early age?
Tight Lines . . .