When we go to a show, as members of the audience, we assume that the performers on stage are qualified to perform. We assume that the musicians are sufficiently trained, and have enough experience and skill, to make the performance happen.
If we reverse the position, from the performer’s viewpoint – is the audience qualified to listen? How many years has each member of the audience sat on a chair practising how to listen? What exercises do they use to put themselves in a receptive state? How much do they know of the musical language? Simply, is the audience trained to be an audience?
Audiences, and patterns of audience response, vary between cultures. In the European concert tradition, concert halls were built to segregate different classes within the audience from each other, and the audience as a whole from the performer. The rich sat at the front, the poor at the back, and the performers got stuck on an elevated platform. In Bali, in the tradition of gamelan, there is no comparable division between audience and performer. There is, rather, the assumption of community and sense of participation. In India, audiences are familiar with much of the musical language and beat complex times during performances. Please, show me the North American audience that can clap in time.
North American audiences participate as best they may, but conditions are complicated. The inheritance of the European concert tradition is built into many performance places, and often makes participation difficult. Call and response, from the African tradition, is inclusive and including of both performer and audience. So, let’s get the audience shouting from the back of the hall! Within the rock genre we hope for a sense of community, not business people with guitars. So, get down and boogie! Within the star system we expect to participate in celebrity, vicariously. So, be glamorous, rich, and aloof. Within the economic system, we’ve paid our bucks and want our money’s worth. So, get on with it. If we have a telescope, maybe we’ll even get to see what’s happening. And, whether in a small rock club in Long Beach or the Madison Square Garden, where is the audience that can beat more than three bars of four in time with the band?
Performance can change our lives. How many of us have been to a show which brought us to life? Remember the feeling of possibility, hope, and joy? Shows with this kind of life-giving and life-changing power don’t happen by accident. So, if we wish for something more from performance, the question is this: how may we build the kind of performance tradition which feels fulfilling, authentic, and satisfying?
An increasing number of people at The League of Crafty Guitarists’ performances have asked us questions about what we do on stage, and how we go about performance. In response to the interest and questions, we make this invitation to members of the audience: if you wish to learn how to play a role within the act of music as a member of the audience, we will introduce you to the techniques, exercises, and approach to performance that we practise ourselves as musicians within Guitar Craft. The course, nature, and timing of the specific exercises will depend upon the particular individuals involved.
If this invitation is of interest to you, please write and tell us. Then, if this is so, we will hold a course in Audience Craft.
Saturday 14th. July, 1990
Broad Chalke, Wiltshire, England
Revised: Tuesday 22nd. June, 2021 for The Guitar Circle book