Guest performers deserve respect

When Indigo de Souza posted on her Instagram story after opening at Vassar for ViCE’s spring concert in 2022, she wrote, “Most of the students talked over us and that made me feel really sad and small.” After Nick Hakim’s concert last Thursday night, it is clear that de Souza is not alone in her sentiments.

As Hakim crooned softly over soulful synthesizers, the thrum of student voices droned on. This was not the sound of people singing along, nor enthusiastic utterances of encouragement. Instead, it was students simply chatting over the music as if they were not standing in The Mug for the purpose of experiencing a live musical performance. At one point during the concert, Hakim stopped playing, offering to end the show if people were uninterested in hearing his music.

Having multiple artists complain about our student body as an audience is not a coincidence; it is evidence that we display little respect for artists performing on campus. 

Playing a gig at a college already presents inherent challenges to artists due to the nature of the crowd—attendees are often less avid fans than those at most concerts, or have never heard of the artist at all. While attending a concert is undoubtedly a social event, the music ought to remain the central component. When full-volume conversations are continued over the music, it not only makes it difficult to appreciate the sonic experience for those who know the music, but also prevents new listeners from absorbing the music in its entirety.

For many, concerts at Vassar offer an introduction to new music. While it might be harder to show reverence and excitement for an artist one has never heard of, it is reasonable to expect people to attend concerts for the purpose of enjoying the music; it is hard to appreciate the music when conversations from the audience are louder than the music from the stage itself.

As a small institution, it is also likely that the concerts are the artists’ introductions to Vassar. When the audience talks over a performer’s art, it sends a clear message of disinterest. For a campus with such a large performing arts demographic, it is puzzling that we seem unable to extend basic performance etiquette to outside artists who have been invited to play here. Vassar getting blacklisted by artists who come to play on campus does not bode well for the future of live music at Vassar. 

We must show respect and appreciation for artists by giving them our attention while they are performing. It is not easy to play for a group of people who are less likely to have heard the artist’s music than an average show. If we want to continue having musical talent come to perform at Vassar, it is imperative that we show respect when they are here.

2 Comments

  1. We are all still adjusting to life after COVID isolation where the decorum expected at public events has been dormant for 4 years. Some of us have not yet had the experience of attending a public concert or theatre event or music has a been a backdrop, an accompaniment to other activity. However, it is not only important to respect the artistry on stage, it is also important to provide an environment in which the artist can concentrate and focus on the delivery of their presentation. No artist can present a successful performance when competing with a multitude of voices. A good performing artist strives to bring the listener along on a special journey and the goal of the listener is to, perhaps, lose oneself in that alternate universe.

  2. Excellent article, I wholeheartedly agree. How sad, though, that this was published anonymously — take ownership of your opinions, be open to discourse! We need more opinion pieces like this!

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