Robert Estrin - piano expert

The Importance of Stage Presence

Important tips for all musicians

In this video, Robert talks about "stage presence." What is it, and how can it help your musical performance?

Released on August 25, 2021

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Welcome to I'm Robert Estrin. And today, the subject is about stage presence, how much you should move during your performance, how much you should show during a performance. This is a deep subject, and I'll tell you a personal story first, then I'm going to talk about specific pianists and how they emote in the way they look on stage. And you would not believe how important stage presence is. Okay, it was an epiphany for me. In high school, I remember there was a recital of the students, and there was one woman at the time who got up there and a high school student that is, and she sang, and I thought it was the greatest thing I'd ever heard in my life. And I was excited about it and so much so that I wanted to listen to the tape afterwards and I went and listened to it.

And when I listened to it, I was shocked to discover that it wasn't as great as I thought it was. And I thought how could I have been so off on that? Because I thought it was a phenomenal performance. That was very good and all that, but and then I realized afterwards, the way she looked at the audience and the vibrancy in her whole presentation made it just such an experience to watch her and ever since then, I realized the significance of how you look. Now, sometimes when I'm flipping through YouTube piano competitions to see contest winners. And it's very interesting, and because they're in a contest situation, oftentimes they're very, very robotic, and I was wondering, I have a video from years ago about extraneous motion in performance that just check it out. It's in the description for you. Anyway, but the opposite of moving a lot is just being very, very still.

I had an experience years ago, hearing a phenomenal pianist, a great recital as a matter of fact of Ivo Pogorelich. And it was an interesting thing, how he dealt with the whole performance thing, which is he came out and just before he came on stage, the lights went completely black. It's like, whoa, you couldn't see anything. It was absolutely pitch black. The spotlight's on the piano. The hall was completely dark. So he comes out and before the audience even stops applauding, he doesn't look at the audience. He just sits down and plays, straight ahead, business. And it's like, whoa, I hadn't seen that before.

The playing was so superb though that it really didn't matter, but it was one extreme style. And if you were on that level, maybe you can get away with that. Now, a polar opposite of that is someone like Lang Lang, who shows everything, and for those people who are less sophisticated musically, there's actually a lot of merit to that because you might not realize the mood of a piece, but when it's shown with gestures and such or even on the face.

I remember watching concerts of Andre Watts, check him out on YouTube, every single nuance of the music is like, you don't even have to hear the music to know what he's emoting moment by moment. So there's a lot to this subject. The question is how much is appropriate and how much becomes distracting. I think the most important thing about any kind of motion during performance or showing emotion on your face or with your hands has got to be genuine. If you really feel it, you're playing a phrase and you're really enjoying it and you're showing that, there's nothing wrong with that. And for those who are, the music is new, they'll probably pay attention closer based upon the gestures or the facial expressions. They'll give a clue to people as to what to listen for and which parts are surprising, which parts are sad. It could all be shown. It's part of it.

Think of a great conductor. That's the job of a conductor is to convey the feeling of the music, as well as the timing and many more aspects, but it's certainly vital that they show the emotion. Look at Leonard Bernstein conducting, and you really get the sense of the music just watching him conduct. If you've never heard, for example, a Brahms symphony, or even if you have, and you watch him conduct it, you'll understand it on a deeper level, just from watching his face and his gestures. Well, the same is true of performers on the piano to some extent. I think it can be a very good thing, addition to the whole experience of going to a concert. Otherwise you can stay home and just listen on your devices, to the music and have a first class aural experience. But it's the whole experience that makes the music greater than the sum of the parts. That's my opinion. Interested in yours. You can leave comments at or on YouTube. Thanks for much for joining me again. I'm Robert Estrin. This is, your online piano resource. You're welcome to subscribe. If you'd like to get notifications, hit the bell and you'll know about future videos of interest to you. See you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Jerome Danoff * VSM MEMBER * on August 30, 2021 @6:36 am PST
This is all well and good for solo performances. However, if you are sitting in the orchestra, too much movement and swaying can block the view of the conductor for those sitting behind you. Clarinet players - I'm talking to you
Robert - host, on August 30, 2021 @7:41 am PST
It's funny that you bring up orchestras. If you look at European orchestral players, they move so much more than players in American orchestras. They sometimes seem like huge chamber groups moving together!
jjjude1 * VSM MEMBER * on August 25, 2021 @4:39 am PST
This really was inspirational! This can translate to all performers, instruments, and voice. My students feel these videos are easy to relate to, make an impression, and they appreciate them. Thank you!
Robert - host, on August 25, 2021 @7:30 am PST
Stage presentation has implications for an incredibly wide range of activities from performance (including acting) to public speaking. It even relates to personal relationships. People get sized up in interviews before they even utter a word!
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