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British pianist Stephen Hough in concert

The psychological and emotional reasons why musicians perform and why we feel a need to connect and communicate with audiences is a broad and complex subject. For many musicians, performing is their raison d’être – the need, the will to play, to perform for others, in public, sometimes so overwhelming that it engages them entirely, body and soul.

Perhaps the primary motivation is the desire to share one’s music with others: in discussing the question “Why Perform?” with musician friends and colleagues, the majority of respondents cited “sharing the music” as a significant motivator. Sharing music in concert celebrates common cultural values (identity, history) and performing can be regarded as a “cultural gift”, a gift to oneself and a gift to those who love to listen to music. It brings pleasure to performer and to audience – both in terms of pure “entertainment” and also the pleasures of intellectual stimulation and challenge, or being emotionally moved. Alongside this, performing gives voice to the human condition and the meaning of life, and examines and confronts shared values in ways which transcend spoken language. Through sharing in a musical performance, we can celebrate togetherness and common purpose.

By performing the great works we share in something which is so much greater than ourselves, celebrating and appreciating brilliant human beings, like Mozart or Beethoven, Wagner or Mahler. Performing is a form of conservation or “curation”, by keeping these great works alive; it also looks after and inspires the next generation – musicians and concert goers.

On a more personal level performing satisfies an inner, more selfish need – the need to be valued and appreciated, the need to impress, to be loved even. It gives us something to live for and to work towards. Performing is a very special form of self-expression and fulfillment, creating experiences that only exist “in the moment” of the performance and then resonate in our individual and collective memories. A performance offers audience, and performer, a single, one-off interpretation of or “variation” on the piece, remembered and/or preserved only as that interpretation.

From a practical point of view, performing endorses and validates what we do in the practice room, and confirms that we have done our practising and preparation correctly. It holds the music up for scrutiny and offers insights about the music and the music-making process which simply cannot be obtained in the practice room, and keeps us in touch with that process from beginning to end. A successful performance demonstrates that we have practised deeply and thoughtfully, instead of simply note-bashing. Preparing music for performance teaches us how to complete a real task and to understand fully what is meant by “music making”. You never really demonstrate your technique properly until you can demonstrate it in a performance. Performing also teaches us how to communicate a sense of the music, to “tell the story”, and to understand what the composer is trying to say. It adds to our credibility and artistic integrity as musicians. And if you haven’t performed a piece, how can you say it is truly “finished”? 

Performances are unique occasions where we live in, and for, the moment. They should never be like rehearsals and for a succession of fleeting moments, the music lives beyond the written score. For those of us who perform, at whatever level, it is probably the most challenging, and satisfying, thing we will ever do.

making an audience feel something profound, moving or incredible never gets any less wonderful and it’s the best job in the worldHeather Bird, double bassist

 

To be entertained
To be moved
To be transported
To be amused, amazed and bowled over
To hear familiar tunes
To hear rarely-performed repertoire
To learn something new
To be challenged
To have a “bespoke concert experience”
To enjoy whatever is on the programme
To feel the musician’s concentration and communication
To sense the synergy between ensemble players, or orchestra and conductor
To enjoy a concert in an unusual venue, by candlelight
To get up close and personal with the musicians
To applaud whenever they like
To exclaim at the soloist’s beautiful gown
To see more young people in the audience
To dress down
To dress up
To sit in comfy seats
To have value for money
To meet friends & have interval drinks
To have time for dinner beforehand – or afterwards
To not have to get the last train home
To not be patronised or treated as uneducated or ignorant
Performers can never please all of the people all of the time and usually need to balance their desire to play certain repertoire with the expectations of the audience. Personally, I don’t think performers should ever feel the need to pander to an audience 
Some actual audience views
…..quality, enthusiastic performances (not robots) and a diverse mix of repertoire

[I want] An ineffable mix of emotion, technique… and always something new. I want to be moved, educated, entertained, and astonished!
And some actual performers’ views:
……communicating. I want them to know and feel what I’m feeling in the amazing music

Audiences want to feel that they are engaged in the performance, that they are part of the communication. I think primarily they don’t want to feel patronised or bored. It’s probably easier to say what they don’t want. I think it also depends where you’re playing. In a village church with an audience who like classical music but might not want to feel challenged, you’d play something different to what you might do in an inner city concert hall……. different audiences want different things but ultimately they want to feel part of what’s going on.
This debate will run and run, in tandem with the endless hand-wringing and eye-pulling about the death of classical music. There is no simple answer. Maybe, as this article suggests, it is time classical music became more radical, to stop chasing audiences or worrying about ticket sales, and to simply revel in “great, challenging and rewarding music”. An idealistic view perhaps, but certainly one which merits consideration.
Why do I go to concerts? Because I love the uniqueness and excitement of a live performance, the sense that it is a one-off, created there and then (of course, as a musician myself I also appreciate the many hours of careful practising that go in to creating that performance). I love the sense that this is a shared experience, but one from which we can each take something personal and special – and that, for me, applies to all concerts, regardless of performer, repertoire or quality of performance.
As a performer, I believe the music was written to be shared and for me that is the fundamental motivation for performing.

Further reading
Issues in Planning Concert Programmes by Hugh Mather (who runs the excellent concerts at St Mary’s Perivale)