Stage presence

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I have not written a lot about how I think pianists should look when they play the piano. That is partly because I don’t consider myself an expert. I have never been completely comfortable with what I do in that area. But today, I want to talk about that a bit.

Two competing thoughts come to mind. One is a reminder of what I used to regularly see in the past. One popular concert pianist thought it was important to paint on a smile as big as Texas and he would make elaborate gestures that were obviously for no other reason than just to convince the audience that he was pretty awesome and also having a great time.

I thought it was fake then and I like that kind of thing even less today. I honestly can’t imagine why any musician does that but then on the other hand, it is clear that some people like it. I think that is a throwback to another time when maybe technology was not as good and some of that was more necessary. It is the same reason why Lucille Ball used to be considered funny but most of us would find her just cheesy today. (Don’t throw things at me.)

On the other hand, I grew up in a very conservative church environment where such things were frowned on. We heard sage sayings like “music that reaches your feet before your heart can’t be good music.” So we learned not to move very much on the bench as pianists and by all means, we did not want to give the impression that our music worship was very fun so we did not smile much either.

As I started growing as a musician, I started moving a lot more at the piano. I still do some of it to an extent but my movements used to be more exaggerated. Basically, I would lean way forward and then back again. I did not even know I did it but everyone else noticed. I started to get some comments and a few complaints so I got self conscious and tried to make it less noticeable.

The one thing I do today that everyone comments on is shrugging my shoulders back and forth when I am playing with a strong beat. Again, it is not something I am conscious of or even notice but video evidence is pretty conclusive.

On the other hand, I am more inclined to err on the side of unnaturally restricting myself. I find myself holding back, scared to show too much emotion. Again, that is baggage from a different time in my life. I think many of you probably know exactly what I am talking about.

So what should you do? I have a simple answer for you: be authentic and be natural. Don’t make movements just to show off. People will spot that a mile away and while that may have worked in 1980, it will not work today. On the other hand, don’t curtail movements either just to placate a few stuffy people who need to read Psalms again where David made it crystal clear that godly music leads to physical responses.

I really think a good rule of thumb to remember that if your movements are natural, you will not even notice you do them. Other people will and if you come across as authentic, your movements will not be off-putting (probably). If you are a really good musician, your idiosyncrasies will just make you more endearing anyway. Everybody expects musicians to be a bit strange. Embrace that…