You are not the audience, you are the music.
Yesterday, we had gone to listen to one of our friends who is an established singer in the Madras Music Season circuit. Just the other day, her picture was featured in a leading newspaper’s coverage of the Margazhi season. So, she’s no beginner in the circuit, no novice. Yet, at a prominent sabha yesterday, in an auditorium that can easily seat 500, there were hardly 10 people present to listen to her and her band of musicians. It was a late-afternoon free kutcheri. As we settled into our seats, we whispered to each other that it can be a daunting task for any musician to perform to a near-empty auditorium. But our friend and her co-musicians performed beautifully. The selection of pieces, their range, was eclectic, their performance was uninhibited by the sparse showing in the hall, and the concert lasted its entire 2-hour tenure.
Admirable, I thought! Bravo, in fact!
I know that near-empty halls are par for the course for upcoming musicians in the sabha circuit during the Madras Music Season. But for an established musician, poor audience response, can be very unnerving.
I know, because I am a speaker. I am always addressing audiences – either leading workshops in corporates or delivering my Talks or curating conversations that inspire happiness in public spaces. I know that speakers, dancers, singers, performers – all of us thrive off the energy of our audiences. Yet, to learn to be detached from audience response – either criticism or poor showings – is an art. It is an all-important lesson in dissolving your ego.
Now, it is quite natural that when you begin to develop a craft which has a public appeal, you look for gratification from audiences. Over time, this gratification becomes a necessity. And you start identifying yourself with your audience. This is so totally avoidable. Because, if you are a speaker, or you are musician, you must realize that you are not your audience. You are your thought, your music, your craft. You don’t perform for your audience. You perform for your inner joy. If that joy connects you to audiences, great. If not, great again! Simply preserve, nurture and celebrate your inner joy – through your expression, your performance!
I remember an instance from 2014 when I too performed to a near-empty venue. My Book Fall Like A Rose Petal had just been launched. And we had organized a promotional event at the Odyssey bookstore. But cyclonic weather had crippled normal Life in Chennai. We however decided to soldier on with the Program. Only 20 people showed up at the venue which had a capacity to hold 100. The Odyssey folks confirmed that the average turnout for most of their events was about 70. They too were seeing such a poor showing for the first time! But event curator and host for the evening, Chennai’s famous RJ Mirchi Deva, and I had a beautiful conversation between us. The empty chairs did not matter to us. We were sharing and learning from each other through the story of my Life, through my Book. We talked about happiness, contentment and lessons in dealing with debilitating emotions and living in the moment! When the event got over, a lady, in her late 20s, who was sitting alone in the otherwise empty front row, walked up to me and said that the conversation made a huge difference to her Life. She said she had stepped on to the street that evening to pick up some snacks. The streetside vendor gave her the snacks wrapped in a copy of a newspaper that carried an announcement about my event. She said she didn’t pause to think. The moment she read the announcement, she boarded a bus and came straight to the venue. She said, “It looks like you held this event just for me.”
I was humbled. Indeed it was true. Of the 20 people who were in the audience that evening, a few were from the bookstore’s organizing team, several were our friends who were primarily there to express solidarity with us and she was one among the four real guests who had braved the inclement weather!
That episode reiterated a learning in me. Which is, that as long as we look for gratification from outside of us, we will always be disappointed, the chances of suffering are pretty high. But when you do something only for your inner joy, when you do whatever you do to celebrate yourself, you can never be unhappy. It doesn’t matter who’s listening, who’s in the audience, who’s liking you or whether you are rich or famous, what matters is, are you enjoying the process of expressing yourself! If you are, then none can be happier or more blessed than you are! And almost always, whoever needs to benefit from your expression, from your sharing, will always find their way to you – not because of you, but because they are ordained to be there!
Yesterday, in that near-empty auditorium, watching that band of musicians perform, immersed in their inner joy, with such detachment was, I guess, both a blessing and a learning!
PS: If you liked this blogpost, please share it to help spread the learning it carries!