June 20, 2018

Can writers connect with readers just like musicians do?

Posted in Connecting with readers, music and writing, performance, publication, self-evaluation, Success tagged , , , , , , , at 5:24 am by Rebecca Hein

Unlike musicians performing live, writers must wait for audience response, except in public readings. Given the long delay between publication and reader feedback, how can we establish a sparkling connection? This delay makes our job harder than the musician’s, but it’s still possible to gain energy from a successful essay or book, and to build on this energy for our next round of work.

I learned this writing columns for five and a half years for my local newspaper, the Casper [Wyoming] Star-Tribune. Initial response was positive. This fueled my confidence and in turn sparked ideas for future columns. When I encountered pleased readers at the bank, grocery store, or public library, they almost always thanked me for what I’d written—sometimes six months ago or more—and mentioned the way in which a particular column had helped them.

Because of this, I began to sense a live connection between what I wrote and how readers responded.

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June 13, 2018

Excitement or perfection: Which is more important?

Posted in music and writing, Peak Experiences, performance, Success tagged , , at 5:07 am by Rebecca Hein

If you are a writer or musician and want to connect with your audience, your performance need not be perfect. It just has to be compelling. I discovered this in a memorable concert decades ago in which performers and audience were all swept up in the excitement of the music.

I was playing cello in the Eugene [Oregon] Opera, a community group. Although we were well rehearsed, and had a talented orchestra and cast, our performances were not professional-level. However, that proved irrelevant to the excitement we somehow generated on our last night’s performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. For some unknown reason—over which musicians and writers have no control—the audience was unusually receptive.

That inspired all of us to play, act, or sing better, and before the evening was half over, we had become a more cohesive group. In the orchestra, we responded better to the conductor and to the singers onstage. The singers in their turn relaxed and gained confidence. Best of all, the plot began to roll along as though on its own momentum.

The main character, Don Giovanni, has spent the entire opera seducing women, and in the final climactic scene, a huge statue comes to life and drags him down to Hell. The music is loudest, fastest, and most dramatic at this point, and onstage, smoke billows out of the opening of a trap door through which the statue is dragging Don Giovanni.

The stage crew must have used more dry ice than usual, because the “smoke” filled the orchestra pit and even got to part of the audience. Barely visible through the haze, Don Giovanni and the statue were singing with all their might.

We in the orchestra could feel the terror of the moment, and played with fiendish energy. Excitement crackled between us and the audience, and afterwards we knew we’d outdone ourselves.

During the following years, I gradually figured out what creates a similar effect with the written word.

June 6, 2018

The magical current between you and your audience

Posted in Connecting with readers, Creativity, music and writing, Peak Experiences, performance, publication, Success tagged , , , , , , at 6:33 am by Rebecca Hein

Whether we are musicians or writers, we all want to spark a fire between us and our audiences. This has happened to me in both cello playing and writing, and these experiences are so exhilarating that I always want to repeat them.

Although there’s no formula, these events have elements in common—between music and writing as well as from one occurrence to another. All these episodes have been exciting, and I did nothing to induce them. This means I did not “play to the crowd.”

In playing to the crowd, we try to please rather than calling on our deepest passions to tell us what to write or how to perform. So, although I’ve learned not to try to please the audience, once that magical current begins to sizzle between us, I react spontaneously to continue the intensity of that live connection.

May 29, 2018

You can’t contrive a creative success

Posted in Connecting with readers, Creativity, Ideas, music and writing, performance, publication, self-evaluation, Success tagged , , , , , , at 6:35 am by Rebecca Hein

The success of “Compose Yourself” was spontaneous. Beforehand, I had no idea it would elicit so much more appreciation than did my other columns, which were nearly as good—as far as I could tell. This spontaneity was what I temporarily lost during the months I spent trying to equal the impressive effects of “Compose Yourself.” Now I know why.

Rather than writing from my deepest passions, I was trying to play to the crowd. It was a subtle change in direction, and when it didn’t work, I abandoned the effort and accepted the obvious fact that I couldn’t predict the effects of my writing.

However, in music performance, there’s nothing wrong with playing to the audience, in a certain form, and I’m sure we as writers can learn from this phenomenon.

April 10, 2018

The community musician who was as disdainful as the BBC and NPR reporters

Posted in music and writing, publication, Success tagged , , at 8:18 am by Rebecca Hein

In 1992, more than ten years before the BBC/NPR episode, I had a mini-encounter with the attitude that unsuccessful writers are beneath contempt . Back then, I already knew I could expect minor put-downs from people outside the creative arts; many people just don’t understand what we do. Hence, their remarks, while unflattering or even insulting, often emerge from their ignorance of the entire field of creative endeavor.

But the 1992 episode showed me the deeper problem. I was being interviewed for a job in cello performance. I’d already auditioned, but my prospective colleagues and I decided it would be a good idea if we also talked about their expectations and mine. It was a community “core professional” orchestra position, in which most of the members of the orchestra were amateurs from the community, and the concertmaster, principal viola and principal cello were professionals. Therefore, the limits of my prospective job were not as well defined as if it had been a union gig with a full-time professional orchestra and a contract.

I did have a contract for this part-time job, but still felt I had to ask a version of the question, “Is this job going to devour my time [beyond what the somewhat loose language of the contract specifies]?” So I asked, and made the mistake of adding, “I’m asking because I have another life goal than just playing the cello.” I said nothing about what that goal was.

“It’s probably writing the Great American Novel.” It was not a friendly quip but a cheap shot. The person who said it was the concertmaster of that community orchestra. I could not mistake his tone, nor the disdain that lay beneath it, and which he had not bothered to hide.

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