I hope school has provided a great September for you all. It sure has for us!
Ok, let’s get right to it.
Rules for Chamber Music Success
Rule number one: Be prepared!
Rule number two: Make it about the music.
Rule number three: Program good music.
One sure-fire way of helping us “make it about the music” is to select good music for our performances. A group may have some guidelines to follow while choosing a concert program, like a request from your presenter, a theme for your concert, or a hope to share new music. Regardless of how strict those guidelines are, your group’s identity is always connected to your repertoire choices. Take Canadian Brass as an example.
Founding member Chuck Daellenbach says, “The brass repertoire library was less than enormous when we first started out in the 1970’s. Brass players did not inherit as much music from history’s great composers as string players did. If every string quartet was wiped off the face of the earth today, there would be new groups appearing tomorrow simply because there is great repertoire that musicians need to perform and that audiences demand to hear.
We began borrowing music from great composers, and we aggressively commissioned new pieces from composers of today. We’ve commissioned over eighty new pieces. We are also compiling a “Canadian Brass Collection” in the music library of Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. There are over 800 pieces in the impressive collection. The works are both published and unpublished Canadian Brass creations.
When one thinks of a Canadian Brass concert experience, there are definite clear visions and feelings that arise. A crucial element to these visions and feelings is the music that we decide to program for you.”
Canadian Brass also takes the momentum of a concert program very seriously. There are countless things to consider when deciding where to program each piece. For example, we usually put our most adventurous and new music about 2/3 of the way through the first half of the program. It is the best place for experimenting and/or performing something that might change the ease of listening into more of an intellectual musical experience. We’ve performed some beautiful baroque or classical music, and done a classical work of longer duration. Now the audience is ready to hear something completely new. In our most recent program, “Bach”, it is here in the program that we perform our “Fantasies for Anna”. It is a new composition by Canadian composer Christopher Dedrick that is based on J. S. Bach’s “Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach”. Though the melodies are recognizable, the music is new and adventurous. We love performing this work, and we feel it fits best at this moment in our program.
As musicians, we will be called upon to sometimes perform music that does not appeal to us. Here is something I surrendered to early in my career. In a performance, the performers are being employed by the audience to give the best experience of the music they bought a ticket to hear. It is not up to the performers to decide whether they like the music they’re playing…not during a performance anyway! Those decisions are generally made while the program is being selected. During the performance, good simplicity comes if we just love every note we play. This way, we let the audience decide if they love it, hate it, swoon to it, catch up on some sleep during it, or tap their toes to it.
Now that we’re loving performing every note and phrase, wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier if we’ve selected good music? My answer is, “Yes!!” My experience as a very busy performer is also, “Yes!!” My experience as an audience member (who has sat through concerts both with thoughtful programming and without) has brought me to believe that programming good music is vital to chamber music success.
Musicians have a responsibility to create opportunities for new music to be written. The path to concert programming success can include unproven works, never-heard works, and disliked works. This all goes into your chamber group’s identity.
Have fun with your choices as a chamber music concert programmer, but do not make these choices lightly. Feel free to perform a concert one way, and change it up a bit the next time and learn which way created more momentum for you and your audience. Those choices shape your audience’s experience, and by extension your hire-ability factor for your next concert.
And as usual…keep breathing! ?
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