The Summerglen Files

Music, Creativity, and Everyday Life at Summerglen Music in Raleigh, NC

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Dealing with Rude Audience Members and Other Nasty Critics

January 18th, 2009 · 1 Comment

For anyone engaged in any activity that puts their work in front of others, criticism is an unfortunate reality. While criticism can be highly beneficial, some forms of criticism can be quite frustrating and painful–especially critiques that are condescending, unsolicited, and off-the-mark.

This morning after a church gig, I was on the receiving end of some unsolicited advice from a decidedly rude audience member. With an air of condescension in his voice, this man gave me an impromptu “lesson” on how to properly lead off a piece of music. Infuriating! I didn’t know this man from Adam, and hadn’t asked him for his opinion on anything.

A problem I often run into as a musician has to do with the way I look. I weigh 100 pounds soaking wet, and if I wear the right outfit, I can easily pass for an eighth grader. On gigs, I’m regularly asked what grade I’m in, and when I play clubs, the bouncers suspiciously eye the birthdate on my driver’s license. Looking like a kid can be fun, but sometimes it becomes a source of frustration simply because it invites unwanted criticism. Often this advice is well-intended, but it stems from assumptions that I am young, green, and hungry for someone’s “words of wisdom”.

After encountering this particular fellow’s “words of wisdom,” I was hot with anger, embarassment, and resentment. For a moment I thought, “Forget this! I should just quit playing! After all, everyone has something rotten to say about what I do!” This is very common, because having some stranger come up and arrogantly critique you is super-disheartening. However, when we work through this frustration and embarassment, we can become stronger both as performers and as people.

As I calmed down and thought it out, I realized that there was much to learn from this guy:

1. It’s easy to naysay from the sidelines. When you’re not out there with a horn on your face, doing your thing and taking risks, it’s easy to make snide comments about those who are. If you are out there doing, what’s the use of listening to someone who’s merely sitting?

2. Some people are just waiting for you to make mistakes! The element of my performance that the man criticized happened during the warm-up, before the service even began. Despite all the great stuff I played during the service, this guy held on tightly to those couple of clinkers I played an hour earlier. Some people are overgrown schoolyard bullies, only feeling good about themselves when they knock others down. We, however, have a choice today, whether we stay down or get back up and keep going.

3. People make misguided assumptions. I would bet you two bucks that I became the target of criticism because I look like a young student. In reality, though, I was one of the only professional musicians in the group. This was a wake-up call to me; I don’t like being judged by my cover, so I should be careful not to judge others by theirs. When I’m tempted to judge others, I must realize that I probably don’t have enough information to do so! I must even give today’s critic the benefit of the doubt–he was probably honestly trying to help.

One of the most beautiful things about life is that no matter how bad an experience may feel, we can almost always find a jewel of understanding hidden somewhere inside. Even though unwanted advice can hurt at first, we have the opportunity to use it to strengthen ourselves in the long run.

What are some ways you deal with critics? Have you ever had a bad review become a source of strength?

Tags: staying healthy

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