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Planning a Concert

Every concert needs to be well planned if it is to be successful. Playing the music properly is not enough.

Reasons for Public Performance
Presentation and Deportment
Selection of Music
Concert Strategy 

In theory, secondary school concert bands should not exist for the sake of performance - music education is a far more important goal! Even so, there are very good reasons why public performances should be encouraged.  A few of these are set out below:

 
  • Motivation: More conscientious and concentrated practice results when students know they have an opportunity to perform. As a general rule of thumb it is probably true to say that a band that does not perform at least once a semester is a band in decline.
 
  • Support for the music programme: It is a sad fact - in Singapore at least - that many principals view the school band more as a means of enhancing the reputation of their particular educational institutions rather than promoting musical education for its own sake. The formal concert satisfies the demands of the local educational authorities for such a reputation enhancing event, while giving the band director the opportunity of gaining additional support from parents and other potential supporters of the music programme within the community.
 
  • Enjoyment: This, I think, is a laudable goal in itself. Unless things have gone particularly badly, most (if not all) band members really enjoy the excitement of concert and its immediate aftermath. For the band director there is also something immensely satisfying about receiving the praise of friends and colleagues while being able to look back on months of preparation with a sense of a job well done.

 


Presentation And Deportment

Although preparations for the concert will tend to focus - quite naturally - on the music to be performed, it is important to emphasise to band members that this is only part of the total effect. Non-musical aspects that require attention include the following:

 
  • Detailed plans should be prepared covering how the group will enter the stage and how they will exit if another group is performing.  Such logistics will also need to be rehearsed.
 
  • Band members should also be told what standards of behaviour (for example, no talking when on stage) will be expected during the concert.
 
  • Polished instruments, neat uniforms and good posture will also make a good impression on the audience before the band has played a single note.
 
  • Programme notes handed out to the audience should also be of good quality. After all, these are one of the few things most members of the audience will be able to take  home with them to remember the event.


Selection of Music

There are two principles to bear in mind here.

 
  • The first principle is to select a variety of music, including some pieces that are "fun" to play even if they have little aesthetic value.
 
  • The second principle is to select music that is well within the ability of the group. Selecting music that is too difficult will result long and tedious practice sessions while the ensemble struggles to master the work. It also risks an embarrassing breakdown during performance that could seriously damage the group's (and the band director's!) reputation while demoralising the band.

 


Concert Strategy

The best concerts usually begin with an easy piece well known to the band that also has the widest appeal to the audience.  The idea is to give nervous band members confidence while making a good first impression with the audience. Beyond that, however, the order in which prepared pieces are played is best illustrated by the following chart:

  • At the beginning of the concert, the level of audience attention is high. Longer selections (including multi-movement works) should therefore be scheduled in the first half. Intermission is a chance for the band to have a rest. Make the most of this time by dragging it out as long as possible without the audience being aware of what is happening. This can be done by scheduling an alumni band after the break, or getting the percussion section to put on a special performance.
  • The latter half of the concert is time when the attention of the audience is most likely to wander. Schedule special solos or humorous works - anything that will make the audience sit up and pay attention. Needless to say, the finale should be bright and exciting. It is imperative to have members of the audience go home feeling that somehow the concert was too short and they wanted more!
  • Many bands prepare an encore piece in advance as well, just in case the audience calls for one. An encore, if it is prepared, should also be a bright, upbeat work with plenty of opportunities for the band to show off its strengths. However, it should also be well within the band's ability. Band members may be in high spirits at this point in the concert, but they will also be tired. Be careful. A poor performance of a difficult work at this point could ruin the whole concert!
  • Encores can be overdone. There was a point in Singapore several years ago when just about every band prepared encore pieces for their concerts and were determined to play them - even to the point of arranging in advance for their supporters in the audience to demand one. This is OK for secondary schools. After all, it is part of the fun! But when more senior college and university ensembles followed a similar pattern it all began to look very false and contrived. True professionals do not play encores unless the audience, impressed by the quality of the performance, genuinely demands one.

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