By Ali Mignone, Stage Manager for Strings Music Festival

In an age of immediate and ever-present digital entertainment—insomniacs rejoice—what’s the purpose of live performance? Why pay money to go somewhere to listen to live music with a whole bunch of people you don’t know, when you could listen to an error-free recording of the same thing from the couch only five feet from your refrigerator?

Let’s be honest. Part of the reason to go to a live show on a concert stage is because stuff might go wrong. Onstage train wrecks can be highly entertaining and provide great cocktail party conversation fodder. Plus, really good performers are often at their best when they’re speaking off-script to recover from a flub. But hoping-for-hilarious-failure aside, as audience members, why should we care whether we’re at a live event or listening to a recording in the comfort of our own homes?



I’ve written about this before in this column, noting that the audience is a vital part of any live performance. Without an audience, no matter how beautifully they play and interact with each other, musicians are just rehearsing. But what the audience gets from being there in person is engagement—with the artists, with the music itself and most importantly, with each other.

There’s a guy in the front row nodding his head to the beat, matching our tapping feet. There’s a woman closing her eyes at our favorite part. There’s a smattering of claps for a tricky section and we join in, swelling the applause until the musician gives a little bow to acknowledge the love from the crowd. At a live performance, you’re not just a passive passenger along for the ride. You are a part of the show and your reactions matter. It can turn into a loop of awesomeness: your seatmates are having fun. The musicians see that, and they play even better. You see that, and then you have more fun. The people across the aisle see you having more fun, and then they…you get the picture.

I understand the desire to listen to a favorite piece of music in private, where you can sing along into the hairbrush or wave your spoon to conduct an invisible orchestra. I also understand the pull of wanting to be alone with the music: no cell phone calls during the oboe solo, no drunk guy standing in the way during the guitar riff, no crackly candy wrappers interrupting a favorite quiet bit.

A recording is the same every time you play it, and that has a certain beauty. But each live performance is unique—whether in variations in tempo, funny mistakes that become part of the show or your own engagement level with the other souls around you experiencing and appreciating the exact same thing you are. And I think that’s worth exploring whenever possible. Hope to see you at the pavilion this summer!


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Posted on June 14, 2016
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