When I was growing up, I remember practicing flashy piano pieces and thinking to myself, “Imagine there’s someone important walking down the street right now who’s going to hear me playing – maybe a talent scout, or a future girlfriend, or someone with a paying gig. I want to make sure they get the best show I can give them.” And I’d use that to fuel my concentration and make it my best performance yet… even if no one witnessed it.
Whenever I’m performing with a chorus, there’s usually some sort of audience, be it the Tanglewood grounds, the crowd at Symphony Hall, or the congregation in the pews… so there’s no question of witnesses. But it’s somehow more special if there are people close to me in the crowd — that whole “look for your mom” mentality ingrained in us since grade school holiday concerts. I wanted to make sure they got my best performance.
But I don’t want just the people-I-know-attending concerts to be special, though. So these days I always assume there’s someone there to see me. And if I don’t know who it is, I’ll even play a little mental game and try to make some sort of connection with the audience – pick someone out to sing to, imagine they’re there to see me. This is important because when you’re doing nine Holiday Pops concerts, you have to do something to make each one fresh. You may be doing nine, but that audience is only doing one. Sometimes the results are kinda hilarious — like the year I befriended a gaggle of grandmas on the walk from the parking garage, then had them all waving at me crazily from their seats because they proudly considered me a de facto member of their family. Fun.
There’s another reason to sing like someone you know is there to see you. Sometimes they’re really there. As I was leaving my most recent Holiday Pops concert, I received a text from a friend. “My sister, her family, and my mom are at the concert tonight,” she wrote, and included a picture to prove it. I didn’t know they’d be there beforehand, but I was sure glad I pretended that they were. It turns out concerts can be retroactively special, too.