Choosing Music: Substance and Otherwise
Start and end the program with strong numbers. Have at least one, preferably more, soloist(s) from within or from outside the group featured in the program. Avoid juxtaposition of numbers with the same key. Do your longest and most challenging numbers early in the program. Lighten up at the end. Don't forget your audience when you are choosing the music.
Possible themes for a concert: Americana Twentieth Century Sacred Alumni Farewell (final concert of the year, something for the seniors, etc.) Broadway Around the World, etc.
All comments should be Concise. The audience came hear the music. Historical information, how or why the work was written - these and other insights can be helpful, particularly if the number is a more recent composition. Avoid introducing all of the numbers.
Some contact by way of comments from the conductor can create an important connection with the audience, particularly if they appear to be spontaneous. Avoid reading comments to the audience. Printed program notes, mixed in with spoken comments as the program progresses can be an effective combination.
A Narrator with prewritten comments can create too formal an atmosphere. There will be instances, however, where this can be very effective, such as in a sacred concert.
People are as impressed by what they see as well as what they hear. A well-lit stage is inviting. Dimmed house lights help focus the audience. Be sure that the front part of the stage, including the back of the conductor and his/her face, if making comments, is illuminated. Provide indirect lighting on the backdrop. All of these details add substantially to the overall effect.
Be sure all arrangements have been made with those handling the audio and that the set-up is done well before concert time to allow for adequate checks and adjusting of the system. The microphone should be able to be switched on or off from the front, if possible. A sound system that doesnít work can ruin a program
The stage setting can be enhanced in a number of ways: seasonable greenery and plants (Xmas evergreens, Spring flowers); the school seal, Christmas tree balls (Pizza circles, stuffing and foil) hung from the top with bowed strings and greenery across the top; foil snowflakes; opaque- projector-made drawings suitable for the program theme; etc.. Students should be involved or can do all of it (with teacher guidance and final say!). They usually enjoy this type of artistic activity.
Start your program on time!And, once started, have it planned such that there are no gaps in flow. This is critical to the success and professional feel you want to project. A minute where nothing is happening is a long time when you have an audience waiting out front. Prepare a schedule for all non-member participants (lighting, audio). Have the students set-up the music in program sequence in their folders at the last rehearsal and do a final check after the warm-up prior to the concert.
Have the students on stage for the warm-up and tuning no later than 45 minutes before the program. Have a clean start with all in place at least 10 minutes before the concert, with tuning completed 5 minutes before the concert time.
Another option is to have the students file in from the back forward by row and in order, starting at concert time. Once the group is in, the concert master enters and motions for the group to be seated. He or she then tunes the group. The conductor should then enter and immediately start the actual program. This is particularly effective on the academy level and the group is large. It provides an opportunity for each child to be seen and also underscores the size of the group.
A well-planned hour, or at the maximum, an hour + ten minutes, including an offering-intermission is enough. Audiences have been conditioned through TV to expect well-planned programs.
Donít overdo this! Two maximum and of a shorter nature will leave the audience wanting more, not wondering when it will come to an end. Sometimes just the ending of a dynamic number or perhaps a soft subdued number will be the perfect final touch. Play it by ear . . .and choose carefully!
At the end of the program, exit after acknowledging the applause from center-stage and then return momentarily mid-stage for a bow and have the students stand, if not done earlier before you left the stage. Exit again and, if the applause continues, return to the side of the stage, bow, and share the moment with a wave of the hand towards the group. If it continues, then return to the center and do that encore! Donít milk the applause!
When your soloists perform in the program, let them have their moment in the spotlight, acknowledge them and let them know that they lead out with an extended hand in the handshake following the performance. Let them know how to make their entrance . . . and their exit!
Acknowledge students who have exposed solos in numbers that are played, by having them stand at the conclusion of the number, after the group as a whole has been acknowledged by the initial applause. If there are several, have each stand in succession, and if the number was a real challenge for everyone and the applause is continuing , have the rest of the group also rise to join those standing.
And the Alpha and Omega for any performance:
Make a convincing entrance as the program begins . . .
and a graceful exit when it ends.
Other Thoughts . . .
Good lighting, as discussed earlier, no more than two players per stand, comfortable chairs, adequate standing or chair space on risers (with protective back rails for safety), no drafts, and not too warm - all are factors for a good performance.
Do it yourself or, preferably, have the principal do it. Use humor, if it is appropriate. Specific needs or projects will elicit larger offerings. Have the percussion section or members of the group if it is a choral group collect it as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Let this break in the program be the intermission. Have strong numbers before and after it.
The offering is a start. Have a surprise guest conductor from the audience, but be sure the group can run on its own in the chosen number. In sacred concerts, have numbers where the audience can sing with your group.