Plus a bonus lesson from Britney Spears. An encounter at Utrecht Early Music Festival.
I'm attending the last morning session of the masterclass at Utrecht Early Music Festival. For the last three days, harpsichordist Pierre Hantai has enveloped students and visitors alike in his own particular sound world. As we enter the last half hour of the class, the whole room listens in sweet rapture.
Suddenly, the door opens up, and in sweeps a tall blond man in a cream suit, with waving long hair, a white plastic bag in his hand. The room takes notice of the interruption. He looks self-consciously around the space, then spots a seat at the back of the room and sits down.
Half an hour later, the session is over. While everyone's going outside to get some fresh air and consider where to grab lunch, I linger behind, talking to someone, and join the other students a couple minutes later. They're standing in a circle outside the building - with the tall blond man amongst them.
Everyone looks as if they know each other already, and since I have no idea who the tall blond man is, I go right up to him. As he sees me, he turns to me and says, "oh, are you a harpsichordist, too?"
I look him in the eyes and smile. "Yes. My name's Maria. Pleased to meet you." We shake hands.
There's a reverent silence among the students.
I wait for him to introduce himself.
He says to no-one in particular, "there are so many harpsichordists at this festival...".
Silent agreement to this statement in the student's group, nodding of heads, shy smiles.
Interesting, I think.
Suddenly, one by one, the students start introducing themselves. "My name is Gabriel and I study harpsichord in the US", "My name is Kate and I study harpsichord in Germany". And on it goes. This is getting more intriguing by the minute. But, as I reckoned, the tall blond man still hasn't introduced himself. And that's odd. Because the only thing I'm thinking of saying now is:
"And who the heck are you?!"
And who is this man, who seems to think he doesn't need an introduction, or heaven forbid, to introduce himself? Who seems to dwell in the same prominent sphere as Britney Spears, where everyone knows your name and knows you for what you do?
(Short aside: even Britney Spears introduces herself at meet-and-greets. It makes for a human connection.)
I still don't know what's going on, and after pondering, I decide to spare him the embarrassment of asking him who the hell he is. Instead, I observe the tall blond man, this fascinating creature, basking in the attention of the young harpsichord students. I let the little scene take its course, until he finally releases the group, wishing us a good lunch and to enjoy the rest of the festival.
While we walk away and he sweeps onto his bike, a girl from our group fills me in. Apparently, he's the Head of Early Music Department at an Important European Musical Institution.
Now we're talking.
That explains many things. He's a gatekeeper. His natural habitat is amongst twenty-year olds, he has some power over them. Maybe he even eats them for breakfast?
Still intrigued, I gratefully register this scene as an invaluable lesson in presence by the tall blond man.
The lesson is: take up space and don't ask for permission.
Whatever we can say about the tall man's manners, he clearly knows how to make an appearance.
But the other aspect of presence, which the tall blond man clearly missed (and yes, we can say we learned it from Britney Spears), is: Make a human connection. Be kind. Show interest in people.
So the next time you get up on stage, the next time you enter a room: take your space, just take it. And don't ask for permission.
And the space you will have taken? It's for your big, brave, generous heart to be; it's to share your music and yourself from a place of kindness. And to make a human connection with your audience.
Because the real reason they've come to listen to you?
Is 'cause they want to be moved by you.