By this time many of us have played the harp online for friends, family, or in more structured performances. If you have already made your internet debut, you have probably experienced some of the challenges unique to online concerts. While Zoom or any other platform may be the only way to play and hear live music safely right now, virtual concerts have a unique set of challenges that can frustrate even seasoned performers.
If you are preparing for your first online performance this holiday season, I’d like to share a few tips for making your experience relatively hassle-free. Even if you’re an old hand at online performing, you might find these strategies helpful, because they aren’t about lighting or cameras or microphones. They are about the music.
Naturally, the technological concerns are important. Good lighting and sound enhance the music for the listener. At the same time, there are some aspects of the technology that are beyond your control. Specifically, your internet speed and the internet speed of your listener will ultimately determine the clarity of your picture and sound. I think there are better uses for your energy than trying to upgrade your internet connection or waiting for the satellites to align properly.
I find the real challenges with online performing have to do with the lack of contact between performer and listener. In a live performance, I can see the audience and sense their reactions to the music. I can hear the rustle or programs or the occasional shuffling of feet. Those sounds used to be distractions. Now I would welcome them as signs of living humans sharing the concert experience with me. Over these last months, however, I have learned a few ways to make these performances feel less awkward and artificial.
The first is a purely practical consideration. The bingo card arrangement of faces on the screen, or worse yet, a close-up of yourself as you play, can be extremely disconcerting. I have seen some players move their computer so they don’t have to have the faces in their line of sight, but this often creates an undesirable camera angle. One of my students engineered a better solution. She simply put a piece of cardboard over the screen while she played. A brilliant and low-tech solution to a high-tech problem! Just be careful not to cover up your camera.
Playing online can feel like you’re playing into a vacuum. The lack of a live audience can actually make the performance more stressful and uncomfortable than an in-person concert. My favorite tip for combatting this is to remind myself to play as if someone were in the room with me. Better yet, you could have a family member actually in the room with you so that you can play for them. Their smile can make your nerves vanish in an instant. Even playing for a pet will help. Your performance will be rewarded with at least the wag of a tail.
Lastly, remember that there are real people on the other end of your internet connection who are listening to and enjoying your music, and who are grateful that you are sharing your music with them. You aren’t playing for a computer; you’re playing for people who are there expressly to share this virtual experience with you. Smile into your camera, chat with your audience and let your music make the human connection across the ether.
Enjoy this unprecedented season of online music-making. You have a gift of music to share. Go spread the joy.