Should Musicians Quit Talking and Let the Music Unite?

The sun was low in the sky but still quite warm on an early summer evening. We found a spot beneath a small crabapple tree and set up our new folding chairs – the kind you carry in a bag you can sling over your shoulders. When we arrived, a guitarist and a cellist were performing original songs. The guitarist sang his composition about peanut allergies that I’m still puzzling over. During their performance, four people settled down next to and slightly behind us, passing around boxes of pizza among themselves. At times their noise prevented me from hearing the song lyrics, though I know one was about traffic on a bridge.

To get to the venue in a part of town we’d never been to, we obeyed the GPS that took us through a blue-collar area of modest homes with pro-Trump and f*** Biden signs in the yards. The band was set up on the front steps of a nineteenth century Catholic church, now repurposed for other things including concerts.

My four rowdy neighbors turned out to be additional band members led by a pianist who sang her own excessively wordy compositions mentioned blue and purple turtles and butterflies. In fact she was excessively wordy in general. We learned that she’s thirty-seven years old, has a condition that causes much pain and occasional memory loss and wanted to share this because it’s an illness that people are afraid to talk about. She’s married to one of the band members and sang several passionate love songs about previous boyfriends, one of whom was her first love when she was twenty. After another number, she let us know she’d just swallowed a bug that made it hard for her to speak, but it might’ve been dog hair that floats around their house and is probably carried on her clothes.

The audience were most likely locals who’d walked over to see a free concert. A serious-looking guy was setting up chairs for the audience — never more than twenty-five people including occasional bystanders — and taking them down as people left. Everyone applauded especially after the riffs. A man standing in the street expressed approval bodily and vociferously.

After about two hours, the pianist brought up political subjects, none of which was in her lyrics, and within a few minutes, an audience member said, “Get back to the music, we don’t need to hear this!” She said it was her concert and could say what she liked, which riled up another man who’d previously been loudly praising her music. Others in the audience yelled at those who’d told her to shut up. She advised her opposition that they needed to be respectful and they retorted that they’d come to hear music, not her political views. Then an audience member started singing “Amazing Grace”, everyone joined in and things quieted down but the mood was gone. Anyway, we’d stayed longer than planned and decided to take off. We had some trouble folding up the chairs to fit them back into their bags, something I’d successfully done before.  A man sitting behind us advised that we never try putting them back into their bags.

Clearly, the pianist should’ve known something Aristotle said 2500 years ago — you can’t persuade an audience unless you know something about their mindset so you can tackle their emotional roadblocks and persuade based on what they believe to be true. From the signs still firmly planted in yards eight months after the presidential election, she could’ve deduced the local mindset and stuck with the music which everyone enjoyed.

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