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Why are live performances important?

Updated: May 1, 2022

Last month I fulfilled a “bucket list” item I have desired to complete for years: I saw Itzhak Perlman, the “world’s most famous violinist”, perform live. He is seventy-six years old, and the program included stories, video, and beautifully performed works for violin (including John William’s beloved Theme from Schindler’s List).

It was a joy to hear Maestro Perlman’s voice, appreciate his humor and personality, and know nothing was edited for those listening - everything happened in “real time”. While the venue was the large concert hall at the Kennedy Center, the space somehow felt more intimate. The atmosphere was created by his presence and he was able to instantly connect with an audience of hundreds.

Given the state of world events the past couple of years, one concern expressed in the arts community has been “Will live performances make a comeback since many have gotten too used to the convenience of working and being entertained at home?” However, when restaurants and museums began to reopen, and music performances were no longer virtual, it felt like a breath of fresh air. Finally, the ability to get out in the metropolis again!

Watching a live symphony orchestra could not be felt the same way when viewed on a television, and standing in front of an art masterpiece at the Smithsonian could not realistically be replicated at home. Live events are not disappearing from the artistic scene any time soon, and audiences realized anew how they missed gathering to appreciate something as a community.

There is a humorous saying that the general population’s primary fear is speaking in front of a group and its second is dying. Speaking in front of a group is essentially a performance, and musicians feel similarly when performing in a recital. We have all performed live at certain extend, whether it is public speaking, presenting a project or singing at a karaoke. It creates a special bond between the performer and the audience, and allows us to connect with our environment, and with those around us. Live concerts allow us to collectively interpret and feel the power of music. It provides an emotional outlet for both the audience and the performers - some may even feel that live concerts allow us to mentally travel into a different realm, letting us peek into the worlds of others.

As a child, I performed in piano recitals twice a year beginning at the age of ten until I finished undergraduate study. I cannot underestimate how formative those experiences were in building my confidence to perform in front of a group. Of course, recitals can be scary - especially if it is a student’s first recital or if they have had a previously poor experience. While I never demand my current students perform in recitals, I encourage them to because I know it builds their confidence in the long run. (Incidentally, almost all of them choose to perform.) It also allows them to experience giving something intangible to others and have a greater sense of community when they observe one another’s playing (provided the atmosphere isn’t one of a competitive nature).

With the Spring beckoning to us to “get out and about”, perhaps this season is a good time to be refreshed by live music again. Whether it is encouraging your child to perform in a recital, or enjoying a concert in a venue, memories formed this way are valuable and bring us closer together.

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