It’s Your Concert: 6 Tips for Compiling a Concert Programme

Whether for an examination, particularly at diploma level, or to share music with an audience, creating an interesting and attractive musical programme for a concert is an art form. Here, Ruth Carlyle reflects on her experience of compiling a concert programme for the DipLCM examination.

Creating a concert programme can be great fun, but needs careful thought if the concert is going to be of interest to an audience. The selection also needs to retain a freshness for you whilst learning the repertoire, particularly if you are learning pieces to perform by heart.  In some circumstances, such as creating a programme for an examination, it can be tempting to select items so that each piece meets a particular criterion (e.g. at least one baroque period item). The criteria for examinations tend to be listed in chronological order by period, leading to an assumption that the pieces within the concert have to be performed in chronological order. Whilst chronological order may prove for a particular concert to be the best sequence, I suggest that you should not assume that this will be the case.

The following are my tips based on my personal experience.

1. Select for variety

Both for the audience and the performer(s), variety in the concert programme adds to the interest.  This variety can be within a particular musical period or style, but should be a factor in the initial selection of repertoire to perform. If you have a variety in the initial selection, you can experiment more easily with the sequence of pieces in the programme until you find one that works.

The variety should include pieces of different lengths, so you have options for dropping a shorter work if you are running close to the maximum timeframe for the concert.

2. Keep it manageable

How many new pieces do you need to learn, or could you draw upon pieces that you already know?  Think about complexity: not all of the pieces in the programme have to stretch you to the maximum of your skill. For singers, also consider range, so that you do not over-stretch your voice early in the concert.

3. Allow time between pieces

As you build the individual pieces into a concert programme, allow time between the pieces and consider this in the concert timings. If you are performing with an accompanist, the accompanist will need time to open a new piece of music and to make eye contact with you to check that you are both ready to perform.  Your audience members may also wish to applaud or to laugh if it is a comic piece.

4. Choose your own sequence

The order in which pieces appear in a concert has an impact on the performer as well as the audience. As a performer, you may want to open with a “fanfare” to get the attention of the audience, or reinforce your own confidence by starting with a piece that you know you can perform particularly well.  If the concert is in two parts, you may want to have dramatic or entertaining pieces to close both the first half and the second half of the concert.

Pieces can be grouped in the concert by theme, as an opportunity to cluster works by different composers and from different periods. 

5. Personalise introductions

Introductions, alongside programme notes, are an opportunity tell the story of the concert. If you choose to introduce pieces, you can introduce a cluster or a pair of contrasting works, rather than speaking between every piece of music.  

Spoken introductions should complement the programme notes. I suggest that they need to be scripted and timed as part of the performance, even if you vary the precise wording of your introductions between performances. To be of value to the audience, the introduction should say more than the name of the piece and the composer; this is an opportunity for a personal touch, either on the theme or why you selected the piece.

If you are introducing a song in a language that is not native to most members of the audience, summarise what the song is about. Do not read out a full translation of the text, as this eats into your concert time and may frustrate the audience.

6. Allow for an encore

Whilst ‘encore’ means ‘again’, it is customary if a concert is well received to perform an additional piece, rather than repeating one from the programme. You may not think that an encore will be needed, but agree a piece with any fellow performers just in case it is required.

I hope that these tips are helpful in constructing a programme. Remember that it’s your concert. Enjoy the process of compiling the programme.

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