This week I am celebrating the joys of being a barbershop singer while the Barbershop Harmony Society is holding its annual international convention in Las Vegas. Yesterday I focused on how beautiful barbershop harmony is. Today’s topic is how much fun performing is.
When a novelist or a filmmaker creates something, the feedback is not instantaneous. There is often quite a bit of lag time between the production of the novel/movie and its actual reception by readers/audiences. But when a musician performs in front of a live audience, the response is immediate, and that is extremely gratifying.
So performing is fun – especially when everything clicks! And the hobby of barbershop gives amateur musicians like me a chance to perform. Whether in a chorus (which is how most of us initially experience the hobby) or in a quartet (which is the coolest way to experience it in my opinion), singing beautiful music to an appreciative audience is a blast.
But there is a trap here. The thrill of performing can easily become a self-centered enterprise in which the music is all about you as the performer rather than the audience. That’s when it becomes tacky, like the husband who gives his wife a “gift” that’s really more for him than her. An audience can sense that it is a mere bystander to a performance that is all about the performer. On the other hand, an audience can also feel when a performer is putting it all on the line to give it a great show, and when that happens, the connection between musician and audience is magical.
My quartet (Lunch Break) does a lot of silly stuff, which means that we get an even more immediate sense of feedback from the audience than other performers do – we hear laughter (sometimes!) during our numbers. In a very real sense, the audience becomes a part of the performance when you do comedy – you are virtually inviting the audience on stage with you. So when it comes together, it is truly a team effort.
But when we started singing ten years ago, I had no idea just how much of an impact comedy could have on an audience. One of our very first shows, after the performance went out to the lobby to meet and greet those who attended. A woman came up to us and explained that she had lost her husband some time ago, and had not laughed since then – until our show. This floored me – we were just four guys acting goofy on stage. But to her, this performance meant something much more.
Over the years these stories multiplied. Those grieving the loss of loved ones; children with special needs; a cancer patient who nearly took his own life until he watched our DVD. Story after story like this made me understand that performing can be about so much more than getting applause. It can be an act of ministry, a way to serve those who are in need of the soothing balm that music provides.
And ironically, by shifting the focus of the performance from me to the audience, from getting to giving, I found that I enjoyed the experience so much more. Instead of being gripped with tension over how well I performed, I was free to focus on how to serve the audience.
Jesus once said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Performing in barbershop has helped me to understand more keenly how true this is. I love this hobby because it has shown more that performing is rewarding in ways I could never have imagined.
And for an example of a quartet giving itself to the audience, enjoy this performance by Crossroads!