Concert Programs, How To


​I find making concert programs both​ endlessly fascinating and very frustrating​. Here's some thoughts about the process.​

As far as I know, there are two ways to begin - either you decide on a topic and then start searching for music to suit it, or you choose​ some​ interesting ​pieces​ and ​form a theme around them​.​ I'm fond of themes, but why, you may ask. I simply find program planning more interesting that way. Of course your concert could very well ​consist of your​ favourite music​, or just random pieces you might not even like​.

​ ​Whatever your selection method is, do remember to take the venue into account. What kind of audience is likely to be there? What kind of concerts are usually done? This might come as a surprise to you... but a theme that suits a church will not necessarily work in a museum of modern art or as light entertainment for a restaurant. (Duh.)

Let's assume for now that ​your ​​chosen​ theme is FRUIT.​ It will be a seriously artistic endeavour in a fancy gallery, and a singer is involved. A singer adds plenty of hassle to repertoire selection. ​Choosing the pieces for a solo performance is infinitely easier than for a joint effort. ​For example, you need to consider whether the song ​suits the particular voice you're working with - is it high or low enough? Light or dramatic enough?​ If necessary, i​s there a transposed version availabl​e, or can you be arsed to transpose it? Should ​you​ include songs in different languages, and how many different ones?​ Can the singer do "lighter" things, like musicals?​ Etc.

I love to do concerts with themes that combine different styles and eras together in a jumble.​ Your theme, FRUIT, is an excellent theme for that. You can find all kinds of songs that mention or relate to fruit in some form. (How about an aria from Prokofieff's Love of Three Oranges? Or perhaps one of the trillion settings of Kennst du das Land? It gets to lemons in the very first sentence. Or Melartin's Red-cheeked Apples?)

So. Now you have a theme and a bunch of songs about it.​ Next ​you have to ​find out ​how long they are, ​in order to​ ​know how many ​to include in the program. ​The easiest way is to check youtube, but if there are songs that haven't made it to the internet yet, you obviously have to find out the length by some other means. ​Also, when listening to youtube, you have to take into account the varying tempi of different interpreters. ​​Basically this is the point when you should start practicing the things and forming your own opinions.

Once you've selected the music, you have to create the order. With singers this gets especially interesting. First of all, you can't just dump a lot of high, intense stuff in the beginning and then switch right into smooth, low, casual stuff. The songs should be arranged in a way that's comfortable to sing through. Then there should be some rests in between, some piano solos for instance, to let the singer catch their breath.​ You also have to ​consider​ the texts​ and how they​ ​match​ each other. Do we have songs about ​raw​ fruit, ripe fruit​,​ and fruit salad in a somewhat logical order, or do the moods of the poems switch uncontrollably around? How does the music produce a logical continuum to match the texts?​ Where to make abrupt changes in the atmosphere, and when to keep it similar or gradually changing for longer?

​If you have different styles and eras included in your program, it's of course possible to just organize the pieces by date. But ​​surely there are more interesting ways​.​ Something I've grown fond of doing is having the so-called encore piece to open the concert. Why? Because I thin​k it relaxes the audience, puts them at ease, and makes the more challenging stuff more digestible for them​. That's my theory, at least​, and I would be very sorry indeed to be proved wrong at this point.​

​A​fter all this hassle, you should seriously start practicing the stuff if you haven't yet. When you play​ the pieces in the order you've created, you'll notice stuff that doesn't work​. Y​ou switch​ things around​. Then you find that some piece doesn't ​fit​ the context/voice/your personality, and you need to replace it with something else.​ ​And out of this tumbler, when you least expect it and it all feels like a hopeless mess, suddenly a program pops out. Emerging from chaos, it somehow manages to be honed and toned and perfect.​ And I promise you that exactly nobody will appreciate every drop of sweat and tears you poured into it. But you will, yourself, and that will be enough.