Dear Experts: Stop asking questions!

How’s that for clickbait? Still needs work? Okay… I’ll do better next time.

So anyway, I’m married to a musician. He’s the principal clarinet for the Midland-Odessa Symphony, and he and his peers are all highly educated. I’m talking master and Doctoral level smarts going on. Needless to say, next to them, I know zilch about music. I know what I like, though, and it’s polite to applaud and to tell musicians when we enjoy their performances—especially if they are our friends.

All of that having been said, there was this one individual (I’m not going to name names) who would respond to my praise and congratulations with questions. Perhaps they were enthusiastic and eager to learn what’s going very well in their recitals. Perhaps they just liked to give their audience an opportunity to throw around a few musical terms, I don’t know. Because it always felt like they were aiming a spotlight into my eyes and interrogating me.

Me: Great show! Everyone sounded wonderful!

Them: Lol what show were you listening to? That performance was terrible! Which was your favorite phrase in the second movement?

Me: Uh…

Them: Which did you enjoy more? My sixth diminuendo, or my articulation? Who is your favorite composer….’s pet? Please write out, freehand, your least favorite four measures in non-sequential order, and include the notation from the original publication as well as those I played with this afternoon. You have fifteen seconds, starting NOW!

Okay, so it was never that bad. But seriously, even the question, “Which was your favorite movement,” has me staring like a deer in headlights. I know pretty much nothing about music, so even the most basic questions stump me and highlight my acute ignorance on the topic. All I know is, “It sounded pretty.”

After about a year of knowing this person (and really it was just this one person) I stopped offering my opinions altogether. I tried to say nice and supportive things, but things that were basic, non open-ended, and invited little to no response. Safe things.

Musician: Did you enjoy the show?

Me: I really did. I had a lot of fun this afternoon.

Musician: Okay! Thumbs Up

Well, then my husband tells me that those non-committal answers are what you give a musician who… did not do so well. OMYGOD seriously? I can’t win!  I mean, I guess I could go full yokel and just say, “Wayul Gawl-eee! I don’t know nuthin’ about no music words, but you folk sure made some purdy sounds with them thingamabobs!”

So these days, I smile and wave, and may time a “Great show!” to coincide with some distraction that makes follow-up questioning impossible. Maybe I’ll throw a thumb-up and enthusiastic nod. Usually, though, you can find me hiding behind my husband or huddled close to people whom I have confirmed do not ask questions.

All of this brings me back to my title. Experts, look… I know not all of you intend to put us on the spot with what should be supremely simple questions, and I’m sure some of you are genuinely interested in what your audience responds to. All I ask is that you help us out with a quick music lesson, for those times when eyes glaze over, jaws go slack, and our inner yokels are about to make an appearance.

Something like:

Audience: Great show! That was really lovely!

Musician: Thank you! Did you have a favorite movement?

Audience: Oh. Uh…. *deer in headlights*

Musician: I especially enjoy playing the adagio, which is so peaceful and calm, but he faster scherzo is also great fun! Which do you like?

Audience: Totally! I really loved the faster part where the flute and oboe were fluttering around, and the bassoon and clarinet were doing that back and forth thing, and the horn was rumbling under everything.

This way, we can offer some useful feedback for all your hard work, while learning a thing or two about music in the process.


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