Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Silence Is… 

… many things. Sometimes golden. Sometimes complicity. Sometimes the thing that keeps the elephant in the room. But when it comes to artistic performance, it is simply correct etiquette to follow the airport mandate: “If you see something, say something.”

Of course, the airport mantra is about reporting terrorists in the interests of safety and that’s a whole different motivation from commenting on performance. But it’s a catchy way to remember that when someone does the hard work of trying to express the inexpressible through any art form, when they make themselves vulnerable by putting that expression out in public, it’s only common courtesy to say something about what you saw or heard. 

If not, your silence is not only perplexing, but has the artist wondering why you didn’t say something. Did you hate it? Did it leave you so indifferent that it wasn’t worth the breath of a single sentence? Was it so meaningless that you forgot you were even at the show or concert or art opening? And when the artist doesn’t know, he or she will invariably think the worst.

We seem to understand that if we’re invited to someone’s house for dinner, we will complement the cook. For those having sex with new people, I imagine (it’s been a long time!) that there is some post-coitus affirmation expected (even if it’s a lie). When a kid shows us the picture she or he just drew, we not only understand that we should ooh and ahh, but put it up on the refrigerator. So why is it so hard to understand when it comes to performance?

This is on my mind because I notice it happening time and time again. I had a second screening of my film back in San Francisco when I was here in Australia and I know at least 20 friends and colleagues who went to it. Yet only one took the four minutes needed to send me an e-mail or text telling me they enjoyed it. A music teacher friend just gave a fabulous concert with his Middle School students and a day later, not a single administrator or fellow teacher said a word to him about it. Not one. It is simply mind-boggling. What don’t they understand about “see something, say something?”

At the end of the day, what counts the most is our own clear knowledge that these kids played great and we worked hard and got results and damn, that music was swinging! But even if we know that the colleagues being so weirdly silent about it is their problem, still we feel the wound. And it make us wonder if they’re complementing the kids and if not, what message that sends to the kids about their hard work and effort coming to blossom and what message it sends about music as a worthy intelligence. You know that if the kid scored the winning basket and kicked the winning soccer goal, praise would come showering down. It’s such a simple request and its absence can cause so many layers of hurt and puzzlement.

So, my friends, please remind each other that praise matters and when someone does something worthy— as these kids did— say something!

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