Our discussion at the Guildhall on Friday, about talking to the audience, turned out to be unexpectedly interesting. It would take too long to report on all the facets of the discussion, but here’s one of them.
All the performers agreed that talking to the audience is a fine thing, desirable from many points of view, but much more difficult to do than is commonly realised. It seems that talking uses a different part of the brain than playing an instrument does. Many performers reported that, no matter how calm they felt before they went on stage, their focus was disrupted by the act of talking to the audience. After speaking, they turned to their instrument, only to find that their concentration had become frazzled. Their heart was pumping, their hands were shaking, their vision might be disturbed. Even singers said that, although they obviously use words when they sing, it’s a different matter to use their own words and their own tone of voice when speaking to the audience. Everyone felt more vulnerable.
Performing from memory seemed to be especially affected by talking to the audience immediately beforehand. Some performers agreed that the process of public speaking somehow drags their thoughts up onto a conscious level, and this is counter-productive if you are about to play from memory, when you need a deeper, more trustful attitude. You really need to quell that inner voice which questions things.
In short, it seems that no matter how fervently musicians believe in talking to the audience, there may be inherent difficulties in doing so, and these difficulties might have a neurological explanation.