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Moving performances

Why is it that some performances leave us cold, however immaculate, crafted and beautifully phrased they may be? And yet others can move us to the core, leaving us uplifted, inspired or tender and tearful.

When we are moved, we feel connected to the music and to the performer. We also feel, in a bigger sense, connected to our fellow human beings. There is something extraordinary about these kinds of performances that goes way beyond words.What is it that these performers are doing that enables them to touch people in this way? My sense is that they have taken immense courage to dare to be themselves; to dare, also, to open to their own inner vulnerability and share that through the music and their performance of it.

Cartoon of singer and pianist

I read once that vulnerability means being able to be wounded, but not in a way that would be open to attack or criticism, as is so commonly understood. More in a way that means you are open to being affected or touched emotionally by things. Courage comes from the French word “coeur” meaning heart. Opening our hearts takes courage. We can feel foolish or we feel that we are too exposed and could come under attack. We need to look after ourselves, of course, but we need to be able to open up in order to communicate.

Virtuosity, brilliance or simply a well prepared performance may impress, but that may be where its impact ends. Nor does self indulgence play a part; that can come across as an act and is unlikely to cut it with an audience. If we ourselves can be open enough to be touched by emotions, if we can feel wobbly, insecure and embrace those feelings and still perform, we are much more likely to touch our audiences.

I have never been more moved than when I witnessed a performance by a young piano student who had only days before heard about a friends sudden and tragic death. She had the courage to walk to the stage and convey her raw emotions through the music she was playing. The audience was spell bound and in some way, she was uplifted. Of course a performer needs to know their craft, and needs to have prepared for their performance in detail. But that is only the vehicle for what we long for, as both audience and performers: an authentic performance that comes from the vulnerability and open expression of another human being.


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