Learning to say “You’re Welcome”

Is it just me, or does anyone else have a hard time saying “you’re welcome?” It happened again this weekend. After performing a particularly energetic and inspired rendition of Shostakovich 11, all I could think about was my own issues: how many mistakes I made, how many mistakes the orchestra made, what spots I should have practiced more, how much better it would have been if X,Y and Z; which, after an hour’s worth of inner monologue, all eventually built up into: why haven’t I gotten further in my career, why have I failed at X, Y and Z, how come I’ll never be as successful as [insert colleague here]… And yet, when I left the hall after these performances, patron after patron stopped me to say thank you. “Thank you for the incredible experience,” “thank you for moving me,” “thank you for sharing your talent today.” And I, stuck in my own head and my own issues, muttered “I’m glad you enjoyed it” and “thanks for coming,” hustling away to avoid further conversation.

For some reason, after so many years of playing and so many hundreds of performances, I still have a deep distrust of my audience. Why don’t I believe them when they tell me honestly and sincerely that the performance that I was a part of touched their lives? And why doesn’t their perspective matter more? After all, if the performance was for anyone, it was for them, not me. I know I’m not alone in this. Come on, musicians: how many times have you walked off stage after a mind-bogglingly enthusiastic standing ovation, ordered a drink at a bar, and proceeded to talk through a play-by-play of everything that wasn’t perfect?

Well, here’s the [incredibly basic] fact that I’ve been realizing lately: Audiences don’t come to concerts to judge. They come to enjoy. That goes for any concert–from a top tier orchestra or world famous quartet to a local community orchestra or grassroots chamber ensemble. The details that we musicians spend our lifetimes analyzing and perfecting just aren’t what anyone is listening for when they come to experience a performance as a whole. And so, while it’s still necessary for neurotically lovable perfectionists like me to keep our standards high, my new resolution is to accept thanks and praise with grace, humility, and empathy. To say “You’re Welcome” and mean it. Because if we’re not doing this for our listeners, then what’s the point of doing it at all?

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