When we study in Conservatory, University or Music Schools we learn a lot about classical music. About phrasing, articulation, embellishments and the author and his time. We practice and practice and write a thesis for the ears of academics. What we don’t learn is how to present a concert program to an everyday audience.
As long as we are not playing in period specific festivals, we can choose our program freely. It will have to be a compromise between rewarding and satisfying repertoire in line with our studies and years of practice, but also with the audience’s world.
There is a huge gap between everyday life’s music and so called classical music. This is actually not bad, it can bring us closer to the audience if we handle it well. This situation offers us the possibility to talk to the public and engage.
So we should chose a program with a story. A story we can tell. I usually prefer to have a first part with flute repertoire that is relevant to me and my life and a second part with music that the audience has most likely heard somewhere and can relate to.
How to present a concert program
At the very beginning of a concert, the audience expects professional distant behaviour and high level performance. So you deliver. Play your first piece without much talking and make sure you are at your best.
Now that you have presented what they paid for, you can surprise them and allow them to also have a good time. I usually tell them about this first piece and why I chose it. Something very personal is best. You can then present the audience with some kind of struggle you had to overcome and introduce your second piece.
It will become like theater, in a good way. Your concert will have different acts and heroes, anti-heroes and a cathartic moment that will make the audience feel better with themselves. And at this point you can indulge with music that matters to them.
So the second piece can be dramatic, involving and a struggle. Then you can tell the audience how you managed to go on, why you chose the third composer and offer some insight into the music periods and how it relates to you. End with something soothing and light.
Now it is time to engage with music they know, like soundtracks from famous movies or transcriptions of famous songs. They already love it so you can feed them with some information they didn’t know about it. This makes it all the more interesting.
A recent example
of how to choose and present a concert program
We were asked to give a concert of film music, soundtracks and the like. So we did the opposite. We, that is my woodwind quintet, introduced the concert with something from our repertoire to satisfy our own taste and practice and also gave repertoire music as encores.
But in the end we had the same scheme. We presented us and our professional whereabouts and where we met. So people got a good idea of who they were listening to. The first piece in three movements was introduced after we had played it. So we got a good pause to catch breath and also the audience had time to wish for more. Then the fun part started, introducing all the different movies and their soundtracks and composers.
As we split the presentation spontaneously we also introduced one another as persons with flaws and all. We could see smiles and happy comments. Making fun of yourself in a professional way is totally engaging to the audience. When they here everyone talk, they listen with deeper intent to our musical voices and you can feel the participation rise immediately.
We also asked questions, whether they knew the movie, actor or composer. I outed myself as not much of an action movie fan. It was OK, because when you play you are professional and deliver high level performance. If you can be human and flawed at the same time, it brings you closer.
Try to speak to the audience as if they were friends. They are not the enemy, neither an exam jury. They are there to experience live music on a deeper level.
How we chose to present it
So we chose to set the level first, giving a high level performance of a repertoire piece and explain it very seriously afterwards. Then we smiled. ” But you came to listen to film music!” and let someone else explain.
And after that we started to make fun of us musicians, letting everyone speak, make mistakes and correct. Often the audience knows even better and when they can get involved they are more satisfied with the performance.
We also chose to add some more pieces not written in the program and let the audience guess. They paid more attention and talked to one another as well.
We can try that out immediately. Are you still with me? Which movie is the following soundtrack from?
It was recorded by a smartphone, front row, close to the clarinet. I mention this just to excuse us for the sound quality.
Here is another one, just to try you out!
Too close to us, so the timbres didn’t mix well and the acoustics did the rest.
If you are interested in sound editing, you can read more about it in my other article ——————-> here.
If you are ready I will present two other famous soundtracks here. Let’s see if you know which movies they were written for!
You will need a good friendly and functioning music group. The audience can feel and appreciate it.
Be sure to apply the general rules of making music together ———————-> click here to read more.
Whatever you choose, engage!
Whenever you deliver high quality but can close the gap to the public by becoming more human and friend like, you will earn great success. No need to distance yourself. Your music says it all, you are worth listening to. But if you can also add a story a brand in evolution to it all, you will be loved! Make your audience live through some real life experience with you and explain the choice of your program in a personal and informative way at the same time.
People wish to be taught without realizing it.
The more they feel you as a friend the more they will
assimilate the information, because they can identify with your story and feel with you. We can only learn when we can relate. We will also listen in a much more profound and participating way, which makes it easier for the performer to communicate.
Have you ever experienced when you played and the audience was there with you? Every breath, every ritardando and rubato? When heartbeats align and brain frequencies add up and the whole room becomes one living creature? This is the experience we all long for.
Nowadays classical music has become too much of a niche and elite, it is not self explaining anymore. Help your audience come to you and meet them half-way.
If you know the matching movies to the soundtracks, please let me know in the comment section below!
You will be delivered a bonus question. Answering that one right as well, you will win the sheet music to our latest medley from Duo Fantasie, which I have personally written.
So don’t hesitate, try your fortune and knowledge!
Best wishes and luck,