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What is my Role as a Musician?

crowdI recently performed in a concert called Mozart in the Park. This is a free outdoor concert presented by the NB Summer Music Festival, a classical chamber music festival held in Fredericton, NB every year. We performed various pieces including Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nacthmusik”. As we were rehearsing, some of my fellow musicians were rolling their eyes about having to play this piece yet again. This got me thinking about the role of musicians. Should we perform music that we like and not worry about what the audience wants to hear? Should we perform music that the audience wants to hear, even thought it may not be the music we love? Are we there to educate audiences and present them with music they may not already know? This is a debate that often comes up for musicians in all genres. I have even heard of famous musicians and bands refusing to play the old favourites that their audiences want to hear.

I have to admit that I too have experienced this dread of playing pieces such as “St. Anne’s Reel” and “Pachelbel’s Canon”. I have tried to avoid these pieces and have resisted putting them in my program.

Here is the thing though… Without an audience willing to buy tickets to our concerts and purchase CDs, we would all have to get jobs and give up the dream of being able to make a living playing music. I try to achieve a balance between the music I love and the music that my audience loves. As time has gone on, I have actually come to love the music that my audience wants to hear. How can I play music that people respond to without loving it? It does not matter how many times I have played “Pachelbel’s Canon,” it is still a beautiful piece of music!

When I first moved to Harvey, my fiddle repertoire included mostly tunes from Ireland, Scotland and Cape Breton. I started playing at the Lougheed Pub, and the audience kept requesting tunes played by Don Messer. After each gig I would go home and learn a few more tunes that they wanted to hear. Over the years I introduced them to fiddle tunes that they would never have heard, and I learned the tunes they wanted to hear. I’ve come to love a lot of the tunes they wanted, and they have started requesting some of the tunes that I love. It has been a great two-way relationship!

In the end, I feel that a musician needs to balance their music choices.  My goal is to keep my audience happy with pieces they love, include pieces I love, and maybe present them with music they would not have heard otherwise.

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