Saturday, January 31, 2009

Taking the Stage

The other day I wrote about how we need to take back music as a natural human activity, and how we need non-competitive, inclusive spaces like song circles and jam sessions where people can share the joy of making music in a group, no matter what their skill level. I wrote that piece in the context of a conversation (on the Canadian folk music listserv Maplepost) about open stages, and whether it's okay to criticize performers who, shall we say, need a little work on their performing skills. Here is how my post on Maplepost continued:
There is a huge difference between swapping songs at a song circle or a jam session and getting on stage to perform for an audience. Once you decide to step on a stage, you are asking for an audience's undivided attention. Their attention is a privilege, and your space on that stage is not owed to you, it is earned. And once you step onto that stage you cross over a line into an arena where criticism is fair game. If you believe you are ready to step on that stage, than you should also be ready for the feedback you may receive. If you are not ready for feedback, then you may not be ready for the stage.

(On reflection, that was probably worded a little too strongly. I want to qualify it a little bit to say that it's okay to be nervous, it's okay to be inexperienced, and it's okay to make mistakes. That's how you improve. Open stages can be a great place to try out what it feels like to get on a stage and sing in front of people. And surprise! You will probably learn that performing on a stage takes a whole new set of skills that you need to learn, just like you needed to learn to play or sing or write songs.)

Here's how I continued:
Obviously, there are different kinds of stages and different levels of responsibility and feedback that are appropriate depending on context. In my mind, open stages occupy some kind of grey area between a song circle/jam situation and a full-fledged stage. Open stages are a training ground, a place to learn what it means to be on a stage.

But however experienced or inexperienced a musician we are talking about, I think the most effective feedback, if it's called for, is kind, direct, and constructive criticism. If you are in a mentoring or teaching role with a budding musician-- if you have been ASKED for feedback-- I think it is your responsibility find a way to be honest AND supportive. I have come to realize, through my teaching experiences, that when you are asked for feedback, you don't do anyone a favour by avoiding criticism. The trick is to find a way to offer criticism that is non-judgemental and direct without being cruel.

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