Do We Do It for the Applause?

Those who watch performances, and those who do them, often have very different ideas of what’s going on. I remember one woman who was convinced that the reason musicians get on stage is for the applause. She felt that musicians play in front of people because they are basically egotists, or narcissists.

If you are working hard learning to play music, you know otherwise. Applause is not much of a motivator for playing music. It’s nice to get applause as appreciation, but it’s not what gets us on stage. In fact, for some sensitive souls, applause is what keeps them *off* the stage! Some have a bad case of stagefright. Oddly enough, stagefright, a fear of how you come across to listeners, a fear that you might screw up in front of them, is in a sense based on a certain kind of egotism, a focus on oneself instead of on the music. I find that people who love he music they’re playing, who know all about who wrote it and what it’s been used for and what it means to them, who really want to convey their enthusiasm for the music to their listeners — these are people who rarely have stagefright.

Let’s go to the extreme case for a moment, and take a look at a survey of one kind of performer — celebrities. Dr. Drew Pinsky managed to get 200 celebrities to fill out a “Narcissism Personality Inventory” survey. The results showed that those who had the least skills — reality TV stars — had the highest scores for narcissism, while those with the most skills — musicians — were the least narcissistic.

This survey suggests that the more actual content, discipline, and skill your work requires, the less narcissistic you are. Some aspects of the music biz can involve hype, buzz, connections, or status, but the bottom line is an inescapable reality check: How you sound. It’s very real. The skills of musicianship and of communicating to listeners are hard earned.

And those hard-earned skills are fun. It’s fun to make progress, to be able to play music you couldn’t play before, to be able to play a tune for people just the way you want to play it.

I remember introducing a group of kids to the violin for their first time. They worked hard, and every one of them had a grim and determined face. They didn’t sound so good. But when it came time to find out how they liked it, all of them loved it and said they had great fun trying out the instrument!

I thought of this when a man came up to me after I had just led a big fiddle orchestra concert, and complained to me that nobody was smiling while they were playing. He said people should be having fun playing fiddle music. I assured him they were having the time of their lives.

Fun isn’t just about smiling and relaxation and games. Working hard to learn a piece of music, and performing earnestly, is fun because it’s so rewarding — even without the smile!

And that reward doesn’t need applause, though it’s nice to see the smiling faces of the audience telling you they enjoyed the music!

©2018 Ed Pearlman

2 thoughts on “Do We Do It for the Applause?”

  1. I heard a quote this week that you will appreciate, Ed. The context was a discussion about putting aside fears of not doing something perfectly, which too often keep us from just doing things…

    “Perfection is a direction, not a location.”

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