Tuesday August 28, 2012
ADVICE FOR TOURING ARTISTS: CONNECTING WITH YOUR CROWD
“Some communities are very used to having guest artists. For others, the experience will be totally brand new and disorienting.”
One of the most rewarding aspects of being a traveling Jewish musician is getting to meet new people everywhere you go. No event is the same; each experience is fresh, new, and exciting! A downside to this, of course, that you have only one chance for things to go right. If the crowd isn’t wowed that one time, or if you don’t click with your hosts, there is little chance of being invited back.
So, how does one go about connecting with a crowd whom you’ve never met before? Half of it comes from experience and a willingness to improvise and go with the flow. The other half comes from learning from those who have success as traveling Jewish performers. For years I have observed the practices of talented mentors like Rick Recht, Sam Glaser, Craig Taubman, and Josh Nelson. Here are some of the strategies I’ve learned and used:
1. Know your community.
What is the size of the community you’ll be singing with? What is the general age range? Are they bursting at the seams with schoolchildren, or do they mainly serve adults and seniors? How traditional or liberal do they lean? What is the Jewish population in that region and how does it affect their connection with Judaism and with each other? Is it in a college town? Are they active and likely to participate, or are they the type of crowd that stubbornly sits in their chairs with lips tight and arms folded?
These are all questions you want to have answers to prior to the event. Ask your contact person these and numerous other questions. Ask people you might know who are part of the community, as well as colleagues who may have performed there in the past.
2. Know your clergy.
If you’re going to be participating in a worship service, it’s extremely important to get a feel for the roles and boundaries with regard to those you’ll be sharing the bimah with. The clergyperson who hires you obviously sees a value in exposing their congregation to new Jewish music and is generally willing to give you freedom to teach and share.
However, clergy are people too and have their own quirks that can affect your visit. Some might feel resentful or threatened by the presence of another service leader. My advice for dealing with these rare but obviously awkward situations is to keep smiling and remembering your role as guest. A little diplomacy and a positive attitude go a long way, and usually by the end of the event new long-lasting partnerships have been forged.
3. Be prepared by helping them prepare.
Some communities are very used to having guest artists. For others, the experience will be totally brand new and disorienting. Congregations that are very reliant on routine and reluctant to leave their comfort zone can benefit from a little advance help from you.
Several months in advance of visiting a community, you can help them become familiar with you and your music in a number of ways. If you’ve made any recordings, mail some out to them and allow them to share with teachers . Have your sound clips and videos of your previous performances on their website. Have them use your CD as “hold” music when people call. Send sheet music and recordings to their in-house music teacher or choir director so they can teach some songs to their singers in advance. There’s nothing cooler than having a group of school kids, choir members, or instrumentalists join you for a number of songs. It gives them rewarding and memorable ownership of the event.
It’s a pleasant surprise when people do this automatically. Earlier this month while performing a Sunday school concert I noticed a group of 6th graders singing along on one of my songs, verses and all. When I asked how they knew it already, they explained that their teacher had been playing the CD every week in their classroom.
These are just three of many strategies to employ. Stay tuned for a future instalment with other ideas!
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