stage presence (n.): the ability to command an audience with impressive style or manner
This is a question I have thought about quite a bit over the years. There are a number of ways groups embody these two words. Some groups are on one extreme, standing flat-footed for practically the entire concert. Other groups are on the opposite extreme, making use of every square inch of room they have on stage. Most groups are somewhere in-between.
More than that, I think stage presence also involves the energy of the individuals. If one individual has a foul mood going into a concert, it can drag the whole group down. I realize there are circumstances that cannot be controlled, whether its family trouble, bus issues, or whatever, you still have to put on a show for the audience.
Speaking of putting on a show, I think this is something that has a negative connotation in the gospel music field. Like it or not, artists are there to put on a show. You can hide behind doing it “for ministry” all you like, but you are putting on a show so that those in the audience will buy your products. Otherwise, you probably wouldn’t be on a bus most every weekend. But that’s not the point of this post.
Putting on a show does not necessarily mean running and jumping and dancing around the stage. You don’t have to do those things in order to put on a show. Some groups are able to pull it off in doses, and more power to them, but when I say groups need to put on a show, this is not what I mean.
There are little things that I can pick up on in and individual’s stage presence. I mentioned energy earlier. This is HUGE in my books. Once again, this doesn’t have to mean moving around, but it can show on your face how much or how little you want to be there. Also, if someone else in your group is singing a solo, don’t think that people in the audience aren’t watching you. In fact, this is one of my favorite times to watch people in a concert setting.
There are individuals that you can see on stage and it is very obvious that they LOVE what they are doing. The most obvious example of this is Matt Fouch. I’m going to post one clip, but there are more examples out there I could use. Watch him during Gus’ solo, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Also, if you purchased the NQC webcast, watch the Monday night Jubilee set, especially Wedding Music. You just couldn’t wipe the smile off of Matt’s face.
There are so many more examples I could go into, both past and present. George Younce and Glen Payne were two of the best, and they hardly ever moved around stage. They had an energy and a stage presence, and I believe that was a major factor in their popularity. Union Street and Canton Junction are newer groups that also have a great stage presence.
Personnel changes are something that can also alter a group’s stage presence. While an individual can be replaced vocally, groups also should take the collective energy of the group when making a change.
There’s one group in the 1980s and 1990s that was considered one of the best on the road. They had some personnel changes, but the group energy remained high over the balance of those two decades. But in the 00s, more personnel changes were made, and it was around that time that their popularity dipped a bit. Still popular, but not at the level they once were. I can’t pin-point which specific change was responsible because I wasn’t following southern gospel closely at the time, but there were three changes over the course of five years. The group is regaining some of its stage presence, but its still not where it was yet.
As I wrap this up, I want to go back to the definition I posted at the beginning, as well as putting on a show vs. ministry. I never want to question how much ministering a group is doing in their concerts, because that is not for me to judge. However, even in ministry, putting on a show is still important.
Looking at the definition of stage presence, it is “the ability to command the audience…” Without stage presence, it is more difficult to capture your audience’s attention. And without their attention, you can’t really expect them to be ministered to.
How important is stage presence? I’d say it is pretty important.
Note: I realize I rambled a bit, and may not have expressed myself clearly enough in some areas. If you would like further clarification on something, please leave me a comment below.