Ensemble Connect Interactive Performances
Ensemble Connect violinist Becky Anderson describes her first experiences giving interactive performances—small, assembly-style concerts that encourage students to engage with the musicians—at local New York City public schools.
Through my interactive performance experiences, I’ve found that elementary school kids are a dynamic combination of personality, wonder, and mildly-organized chaos. Standing in front of an auditorium filled with 100 third graders is a unique feeling. If you can keep the students’ attention, interest, and lead them on a creative journey through your presentation, you will rarely find a more curious and unabashedly excited audience for any concert. The reward is high, but the stakes are also high—the potential scene of an auditorium filled with out-of-control elementary school students is a rather terrifying prospect for most of us!
My colleagues and I worked hard over the past month to put together a presentation that felt genuine to our passion for music, while tailoring our presentation style and language to each audience age group. Rather than creating two separate presentations for our high schools and elementary schools, we found a musical concept and repertoire that we cared deeply about, and used the same general concepts and music for all of our presentations. However, our stage presence and vocabulary changed quite a bit between those different age groups! One of the surprising and delightfully fun parts of our presentations was watching each of my colleague’s high-school and elementary-school personas come out and develop over the course of our performances.
I love school interactive performances because they are always surprising, and you never know quite what to expect. Despite how much you prepare, there is always an unknown element to each presentation because they involve audience participation. Learning how to field questions and comments from a group of students, and finding the delicate balance of when it’s best to go off script and improvise versus when to gently steer the audience back to main points of a planned presentation, takes real teamwork and trust between performers. During one high-school presentation, we worked a performance of “Happy Birthday” into our explanation of the term “melody,” because we found out that it was a student’s birthday a few minutes before we started. In another elementary-school performance, I had to kindly explain to a certain talkative second grader that yes, we could play “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” but we were going to move on to play some music by Brahms instead.
Interactive performances are fulfilling because they encourage a meaningful interaction between performers and the audience in a way that we hope will enhance the audience’s connection with music. As a performer, I’ve found that they enhance my connection with music, as well. These performances require me to articulate what I find most exciting and important in music, and to back up those convictions in how I perform when we are playing music during the presentation. Those reminders, and being able to interact with students that have the potential for such genuine curiosity and excitement about the music that we play, are things that I carry with me far after we finish our presentations at each school.