Rock-n-Roll learning with Robert Plant

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Rock-n-Roll learning with Robert Plant … there’s so much we can take away from any performance, and so much we should give back. This Learning Hook blog is not so much about eLearning for a change, but about the performance in facilitation. Read on for more on our rock and roll heritage in the classroom (or just skip to the important bit!)…

Last night I saw Robert Plant play at Rod Laver arena in Melbourne – maybe 40% Led Zeppelin, and 60% from his diverse solo catalogue. The band and Plant were truly great (OK, I’m a bit of a fan… if you have not really explored his post Zeppelin work, I highly recommend the Band of Joy album from 2010 – that is, if you’re after some ‘gentlemanly-folkish-blues’). An observation our group made, and which was just so obvious to us throughout the night, was the crowd’s quite absurd behavior.

The behavior we thought absurd was that for probably 50% of the set list, the band received standing ovations, whoops and general pleasure from the audience – but only at the end of each song. When they were actually playing, very VERY few people in the stadium stood up, let alone danced. It was hard to spot just some gentle rocking or foot tapping! Just a huge dome filled with what seemed either gob smacked or to be blunt, prudishly reserved fans of this Rock god that hasn’t played on our shores for I think 17 odd years. Many of the men I thought looked like they were studying him like ‘The Thinker’ (Rodin’s famous sculpture).

When the concert opened, there was no doubt a certain amount of being awestruck for fans – this is a guy that has been voted by numerous rock magazines as the best rock lead vocalist of all time. But this passes as songs progress and you just want to get into it right? Well not for most of this Melbourne crowd. It was embarrassingly reserved. The silent treatment during the performances was even commented on by Plant. But the topic of this blog is the strange and absurd behaviour at the end of songs, when the crowd would erupt, showing their love and exuberance. There was no doubt the audience was loving what they were hearing – but you would never know it if a song didn’t end.


The important bit!

So now back to learning. Perhaps facilitators/teachers are not rock gods… ok, definitely not. But they are performers, and performers get better when they interact with the audience – which is not a one way conversation; when there’s a dialogue that forms between the facilitator/teacher and the crowd; when the teacher/facilitator hears and sees reaction as they perform, it helps them cater on the fly for what they see as working, or not. It’s a dynamic that’s hard to replicate outside of a live performance. The album might be a perfect capture session, or what the producer believes to be best for most audiences (just like eLearning captures and standardises best practice – but is often static); the live performance in comparison offers the unexpected, opportunities for much MUCH more, that suits the time, place and audience’s needs – but how much of this gain is realised in the performance is as much dependent on the audience as the performer; it’s the audience and facilitator/teacher’s relationship or ‘performance dynamic’ together.

So in this way – there is an onus on us as learners or as audience members to give back to the performer/facilitator – it’s not just polite, but there’s something in it for us; it makes for a hugely better performance where things happen the artist didn’t expect too. If there’s no interaction i.e. “We’ll just sit here and let you impress us, or we’ll pretend to be judges on an Idol-esque show”, the performer facilitator will only ‘play by the numbers’ when faced with the silent treatment (we may as well buy the album then).

We let R. Plant down a little last night as a city (my sister, beautiful wife and I might not have though – we did have a good rock out in front of our seats – but felt very lonely and a bit embarrassed!). Let’s not let our next facilitator down, and give back to them to get more from the event ourselves.

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  1. I haven't been to the Rod Laver arena but my experience of seeing bands in a large stadium has usually been a fairly alienating experience. Unless you're in the front couple of rows the entertainer only has a vague awareness of your presence so it's not surprising that there's not much feedback during the performance.
    You are probably right in pointing out that Melbourne is a fairly reserved/conservative town but when I hear the whoops and hollerin from other audiences I think praps that's not such a bad thing. Make em work for their adulation.

  2. Agree, an arena is much larger than a classroom – and absolutely agree on the alienating thing too with bigger venues. Perhaps a pub/bar analogy would have worked better. It’s a good comparison too of the venue shaping the interaction: the more intimate classroom/workshop and the larger lecture theatre. You’re point about making a performer work for their adulation is interesting too. In both the learning environment and the stage/band we always are paying $$ in some form to see the ‘act’ and to hopefully take something away. The more we give back to the artist, the more potential we have of the artist responding directly and somewhat more individually to our needs – finding the unexpected in the material/topic. But, in both cases, it does come down to if they’re ‘deserving’ of that support and dialogue from their audience. That’s what was odd and thought provoking at this concert. The audience seems to go quite wild at the end of a song, but DURING the song, would sit in quiet contemplation – giving nothing back.

  3. Anonymous says:

    We go to a concert to listen and then show our appreciation at the end of each number. We don't go to hear and see "look at me" people that are a distraction. The audience demographic was probably 65% over 40 years of age so that is probably one reason they weren't standing up, yelling and dancing. This is more the Justin Bieber or Kylie style and age group.

  4. I think I wrote the above from a 'We' perspective i.e. I made a generalisation that most of the crowd enjoyed it from their very enthusiastic clapping and stand up responses at the END of numbers, and then from that, I've made the further assumption of a 'We' should be getting into this more. I see you've also done this with the 'We' go to a concert to listen and then show appreciation etc. Fair enough too – we're all different and admittedly – I'm only 39 – and no, not into Beiber! The article above is not written as a music review – sorry if it came across that way too – it was merely making a link between the presenter and the audience when compared to how audiences work with presenters (particularly teachers) – or even rock stars. It was actually Robert Plant’s comments about the audience feeling like a Library and a later one he made about it being like a Leonard Cohen type gig that made me think of the analogy for this Learning focused Blog. I.e. if the performer is having a dig at the audience or commenting on this – the audience is definitely affecting the actual performance – and furthermore – then affecting what they will get from the presenter. What we give is what we get back is what it made me think about. Really appreciate the comment and understand I made a few 'We' kind of statements. Thanks again.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Sorry about the Bieber dig Brenden.
    Maybe it was this particular gig and the majority audience it attracted…..I'm now feeling a bit guilty that we ( as an audience ) didn't clap louder and cheer more after each number. Hopefully the encore cheering made Mr Plant happier about the performance. Melbourne does have more reserved audiences. As a comparison, the Bruce Springfield gigs had a different audience demographic ( generally ) who did get up to dance and have a good rave. If the audience didn't do so at his gigs, in my opinion that would have been peculiar and unfortunate. Plant's music leans more to the folk, blues "world music" genre and I'm quite sure most of his fans would be there for the cerebral experience with some head nodding and toe tapping. Other audience members ( as in all concerts ) might have been there for the experience with other expectations and thus disappointed. Audiences are an interesting lot. We went to see Cliff Richard and The Shadows gig in 2009 and there was a refreshing number of young ones there. Pun intended 🙂 Those who got up to dance were the gray army, while the younger one's took the whole experience in seated.

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