We’ve all been told that the first and the last phrases of a song are the most important – first and last impressions.
So as performers, we can be tempted to think of the time from the opening of the curtain till the first note of the first song as a sort of negative space, where there’s nothing really happening.
However, by the time we sing the first note, we’re long past the first impression. The first impression happens at first sight – which can be when the curtain opens, or when we walk onto the stage, or when we walk to the front of the room from somewhere in the audience.
And yes, audiences do listen about 50% with their eyes, so the importance of this very first visual impression cannot be overstated.
There’s no rule that says that you have to communicate the same message, impression or emotion as anyone else – but whatever it is, it needs to be specific, and it needs to be deliberate.
Some performers go with haughty, or sweet, or hip, or mellow, or just thrilled to be here.
And the message for my choruses definitely varies, depending on the event and the venue. The “Ta-Dah, joyful, can hardly wait to show you what we’ve been doing!” that is appropriate for a Barbershop competition – where the audience cheers as the curtain opens – would be entirely inappropriate for some occasions. A church funeral would call for much more grace and dignity.
Like every other aspect of a choir’s performance, every member must buy into the plan – whatever that plan is. If one guy is doing humble/aw shucks, and everyone else is doing Ta-Dah! – guess who we’re all looking at. This visual dissonance, and lack of blend and balance sets up the audience to expect lack of blend and balance in the sound as well. Once we’ve created a negative impression, it’s really, really difficult to haul the audience’s opinion back into our corner – no matter how well we sing that first phrase.