The Hidden Star — Look who's talking?

Rhetorician Mette Hojen, an expert in executive performance, gives a fascinating insight into why the gaps between music making in a concert are just as important as the playing itself.

Who is youyr bands star performer
Who will be your band's star presenter?

The band has practiced for weeks. It’s 7.00pm and the concert starts in half an hour. Everything is set for success: The programme is perfect, the venue looks stunning and you expect plenty of people in the audience. 

Just a final decision remains: Who will do the talking? 

It may seem a bit odd, but how often has a great musical concert experience been let down by the presentation skills of those fronting it.

We take our excellence at making music almost as a badge of honour, yet all too often we let ourselves down by simply presenting our skills in a manner that is anything but.

I completely understand that as brass bands we are here to play, not to talk. 

However, I also have the belief that you may also appreciate that there is much, much more to presenting a concert than merely taking to the stage and playing well.

In fact, I believe that by giving a little more time and thought to the spaces that occur between the actual music making, the whole of the concert going experience for your audience can be improved.

Get it right and those traditional hard to fill empty spaces between your repertoire have the potential to become your best platform for audience interaction and good PR.

Chance to speak
A chance to speak as a band takes a rest...

Setting the right goals:

I would like to argue that we need to refine our thinking about concert presentation, and invest just as much time and desire to get that element right as we do about the actual making of music.   

Time and desire: These really are two keys factors that will govern your success at concert presentation 

In my musical upbringing (and in many other bands I guess) not a great deal of time or thought was given to the two or three minutes between the pieces we performed on stage. 

It was a chance to get blood flowing back into tired lips, with an MD giving out bland introductions and information with one eye on the players as they shuffled their music to be put in place for the next piece.

The odd joke, some information about the music to be played or the soloist being featured and off we went again.... 

And the audience? 

90% of the time they seemed to be pretty bored.   

I started to do some calculating, and came to the result that during an average brass band concert, we are wasting approximately 25-40 minutes of time for great PR and audience interaction. 

The secret lies in the way we think about those minutes: Not randomly or off the cuff, but with structure and purpose.

So what do we want to ensure?

Allan Withington
The best boy scout: Allan Withington is always well prepared...

Avoid accidental achievements - aim for strategic ones:

Over recent years I’ve written many concert presentations for various bands and their MDs. 

I like to set up clearly defined goals - making the MD’s life much easier when they have to turn around from the comfort of conducting their band and face their audience.

Give yourself these basic strategic aims:

1. Make a point of getting 50% of the audience to show that they are at least willing to think about coming to your next concert (Ask them, cajole them, enthuse them about your current concert and what future ones will be like)  

2. Make the audience laugh three times (Well rehearsed jokes and observations) 

3. Rehearse applause technique with the audience during the concert (After the initial applause, reintroduce a featured soloist within the piece or ask the main soloist to take a secondary bow) 

4. Give the audience a special insight (about the band, playing in general etc - human beings love to get an ‘exclusive’ – from premiere performances to new signings etc) 

It may seem like a lot of extra work to consider - but an enthusiastic, engaged audience, irrespective of size, can give a band a huge boost. 

It’s the accumulated effect of good communication that counts - and as a result your presentational skills become so much more effective.  

It may be planned – but good planning tends to work much more effectively than occasional moments of inspiration.

make them smile
Making people smile creates the bond...

Eco-friendly PR:

The breaks between playing offer the speaker the golden opportunity to carve out a common bond between the band and the audience it is entertaining.

They have already shown their faith and support in you as musicians by paying the entrance fee to listen to you perform; so now is your chance to build on that.

And that is important because identification is the strongest factor to achieve substantive support and lasting goodwill from an audience: The type that means that they come back to hear you time and time again.. 

So, we need to speak about the things we have in common with them - young or old, brass band fanatics or occassional listeners: The joy of the wonderful music, the unique appeal of brass bands, the brilliant soloists, your proud history, your even more exciting future...

To make use of the minutes between the pieces is eco-friendly PR: It doesn’t cost anything; it can be informative, entertaining and passionate.  

Plan it well and it can be measured in its weight in gold. Get wrong and it can send you band to the concert scrap heap. 

And finally: Don’t be afraid of repeating your core message to them with subtle variations. 

Telling an audience just how good you are (especially when you have played well) is the best PR of the lot)

Frank Renton at work
The great persuader at work: Frank Renton in action...

Transfer information or achieve persuasion?

To show how you can engage an audience quickly I have produced two statements.

The first is the type of presentation that simply transfers to an audience basic information: The second is one that gives them something to be persuaded by.

Transfer information:

"Our next piece is  march written by Andy Scott and is called ‘Chrysalis Moon’ and was written in 1985. It is written for four trumpets and cornets."

Achieve persuasion:

"Music can be like  butterflies; fragile, beautiful, ephemeral, changing – the stages of its life cycle mirrored by the waxing and waning of the moon.  The innovative composer Andy Scott has magically captured the sense its metamorphosis with this sublime piece of writing for our four featured soloists....." 

My goal here is to activate the audience’s emotions and give them time to build in their own mind a musical impression of what they are about to hear.

These few lines also contain what is called a ‘clap trap’ – not talking a load of rubbish, but introducing a sense of anticipation that triggers support and applause, before a note is even played.

An enthusiastic audience
Getting an audience enthused and engaged...

Audience interaction:

As a speaker you can do a lot to engage your audience and interact with them: Talk to them not at them, make eye contact, walk amongst them, do not use notes (see how politicians now walk from behind lecterns and stands, try not to use autocue and answer the questioner directly instead of just talking to the back of the hall)

Do it well and a bond - a unity between band and audience - starts to be moulded. 

I’ve learned recently that players from the Foden’s Band mingle with their audience in the interval. 

From a strategic perspective that’s a really good idea, but does this mean that you have to be a ‘super-networker’ or good at small talk? No. 

Just remember a simple rule: Just like your MD or presenter, just take time and have the desire to show people your passion about your band, the music they play, the way its run, the players it contains etc.

I can assure you - people will pay attention. Human brains are programmed to mirror feelings, so if you communicate passion and enthusiasm, that is exactly what your audience will experience too.

Great communicator
A man who gets his words right: Bram Tovey is a masterful communicator

A few quick tricks:

Here are a few quick ideas that will help improve your concert presentation skills and help you save time: 

Kairos – the right word at the right time

‘Kairos’ means ‘right word in right time’ and covers the very effective principle from ancient Greek rhetoric theory that whenever and wherever you speak, you must make sure to mention something from your surroundings and tie it together with your material. 

If you get the chance, make sure you get to see someone like Bram Tovey (above) in concert action - he knows exactly how important the gaps between the music making are, and how to fill them with the right connections.

Kairos can be many different things: The weather, the venue, the event itself, someone’s birthday, other cultural events, a quote from a historic local person, a cultural link. 

Kairos helps us frame our concert in the mind of an audience. 

Red line

The red line is vital if you don’t want the audience to perceive your concert to be just an assembly of random pieces (well played, of course). 

The red line is like a theme and a frame for the whole concert. For instance it can be a ‘Prom Night’, ‘Travelling’, ‘Crossing Boarders’, ‘National Heroes’ etc. The music links the theme together.

Even though it’s written in a programme, the only thing that counts is oral communication. So don’t be afraid to tell your audience what your concert is all about and say it loud and clear!


Presenting an effective, entertaining concert is a difficult ask for any brass band. It is not just about the playing – if it were, brass bands would have no trouble packing out concert halls.

So take the opportunity to invest just as much time and energy, passion and desire into the moments when you are not playing as you do when you are.

You may well surprise yourselves just how good at concert presentation and PR for your band you are.

Now: Hands up who wants to do the talking?

Copyright: Mette Højen

Mette Hojen

About the author:

Mette Højen (above) is a partner in Network Academy, a company that specialises in growing business via networking, PR and executive performance

She is a Master of Arts in Rhetoric (University of Copenhagen) and a former advisor and speechwriter to the CEO of the Danish Bankers Association.

Mette has also played cornet and flugel with the Copenhagen Brass Ensemble and is a former member of the European Youth Brass Band and Concord Brass Band in Denmark, as well as performing with several bands in Norway, Holland, England and Wales.

She has conducted extensive academic study on the leadership rhetorics of professional conductors and how the findings can be used in business communication.


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