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Public performances--brilliant analysis of performer-audience relationship

Here is a brilliant essay by Charles Rosen from his new book Piano Notes. Although Rosen only discusses the relationship between the performer and the audience for classical music, his thoughts are relevant to all public performances. The performer's greatest reward is an intensity of listening by the audience. Note the subtle analysis of the performer-audience relationship, a deep analysis that gives us something to think about even in workaday teaching and business presentations.

The essay is long and should be printed out, in order to be read with the appropriate care and intensity that the essay deserves. Magicians have written a great deal about performer-audience relationships (see chapter 3 of Visual Explanations), but Rosen's essay is the best discussion I've ever seen on performers and their audience. [this link is now broken; good link below]

-- Edward Tufte

More on performer-audience relationships

Along with Rosen, two other classics on performer-audience relationships:

Henning Nelms, Magic and Showmanship: A Handbook for Conjurers (New York, 1969), perhaps available as a Dover paperback. Several examples fron Nelms appear in the magic chapter of Visual Explanations.

Lenny Bruce, "The Palladium" (a 20 minute bit), in recorded collections of Lenny Bruce and written down word-for-word with commentary in Albert Goldman, Ladies and Gentlemen Lenny Bruce!! (New York, 1974), pp. 235-244. The Palladium audience is like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln (Mt. Rushmore); it's an oil painting; it's Easter Island out there, as the comedian dies.

There must be an equivalent classic for theatre.

Books on teaching are listed in the magic chapter in Visual Explantions; another list is in "The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint." and a good essay on presenting technical material by Frederick Mosteller, "Classroom and Platform Performance," is posted at this site (see NEW section).

No doubt there is a classic theatrical book on the subject. For ballet? For professional sports?

-- Edward Tufte

Please update the link to Rosen's article. I was not able to acces it in July 2006.

-- Alma (email)

Can a Kindly Contributor please track this link down? The article is superb.



-- Edward Tufte

The Independent's link has expired, but I managed to track down a blog that contains the excerpt: (scroll down about a third of the way, to the entry dated 11.07.2003, 15:49)

-- David Mackinder (email)

David Gutman, Piano Notes, the hidden world of the pianist by Charles Rosen, The Independent; 11 July 2003.

-- Niels Olson (email)

Rosen, Bell, and Public Performances

Gene Weingarten's April 2007 story in the Washington Post, Pearls Before Breakfast, won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing today. It reports on the meager reception afforded virtuoso violinist, Joshua Bell, who played for a hurried public in an everyday setting. Evidence, perhaps, for Rosen's statement, " 'for whom does one play in public?'.... One plays for the music. "

The almost complete absence of attention by passerby seems to give the lie to this assertion:

"A performance that does not please both professionals and laymen is incomplete and has at least partially failed: the best interpretation convinces everyone, even those to whose taste it may be antipathetic. Compelling the unwilling admiration of those musicians and amateurs who have a different perception of the work or style is the greatest triumph…. The success may properly be determined by the intensity of the attention of the listeners."

In light of Weingarten's depressing finding, perhaps one should say "Powerpoint for the masses." Thoughtful presentations for discerning audiences only.

-- Prem Thomas (email)

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