Program Music: How to put together a program

This Month I have performed at a variety of events, from a University Reception at Cardiff National Museum, to a Charity Concert at St Martin Church in Roath, to Birkenstomp at Little Man Coffee.

The Only tricky Thing

The only hard thing about being a Singing harpist, other than the whole ‘Singing while playing the harp to an alarmingly good standard’, is choosing what to do for concerts!

For background music, like this month’s drink’s reception, I have developed a standard repertoire that I can stretch over a  a number of hours so I don’t have to repeat anything and I’m providing a varied and interesting program throughout!

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For Concerts I have developed a few tips to try and suit the occasion. Here are the three ‘P’s:

Picking

how to pick a piece:

1)Common Sense

This is a tricky one for musicians I know! but if you’re going to do an aria and everyone else is doing pop covers, it will be weird. If you’re following someone who’s done something very moving an profound, don’t try and jump straight into a comedy song! people need to warm up to it!

2)Tone

If you’re at an upbeat concert where the mood is very light and it’s a fun concert, don’t do something slow and sad. easy!

Now, I know that’s all well and good in theory but what if you have to make a drastic change of program suddenly! Here’s what you do:

I have 3-4hours worth of music that can be done as background music for receptions and weddings. about 1/4 of it is acceptable concert material. This is because it doesn’t always show the extent of my skills or is simply not thrilling enough to entertain an audience.

My rule is ‘Always have a lever change’… This is helpful for harpists, rubbish for everyone else. A lever change mid-piece is thrilling for an audience, when I perform Jason Robert Brown’s ‘Stars and The Moon’ there are about 4 lever changes throughout the piece, this coupled with the drama of the song is enjoyable for an audience. I have done many pieces where there are no changes and there isn’t as much flair to the piece.

The main point is, have something that shows off your ability. have a few different ‘great pieces’. Anyone can be amazing at playing a ‘good’ piece, but if you have something that’s personal to you, shows off your skills, range and ability then you’ll have those great pieces.

The Question you should ask yourself before going on stage is ‘would I record this?’ because if you wouldn’t, ask yourself why. Then change it to something you would!

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Preparation

Like an athlete you can’t just walk into a concert and be ready! That’s not how it works. Some concerts I learn new music especially to perform at and other’s I reuse music I already have. how do I decide which to do? time and preparation! If I have a fantastic piece that’s practically perfect then I’ll go for it and perform it. It’s sometimes risky business taking a new piece out for a ride sometimes it works out well and others it fails tremendously! It’s common sense really, you know your own ability so make a value judgement on that!

rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! not until you get it right, and not (as most professionals will tell you) till you can’t get it wrong. But, rehearse until you can ‘perform’ it! there’s a huge difference watching a musicians playing a piece and performing one. It’s the reason the Met or the Royal Opera House isn’t full of 12 year olds who can sing Queen of Night and ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’…

Performance

Are you sitting comfortably while you read this? yes? that’s the level of comfort you should feel while you perform. You should have that same relaxed ‘Cup of tea in hand’ feeling when you perform.

How do you get to that?

rehearsal and performance. I can sing a moving and tear jerking rendition of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ 16 times in my sleep because I have performed it and playing it and rehearsed it hundreds of times. Similarly, with other concert pieces I have performed them at my residency many times leading up to the performance so when I get to the concert I take a deep breath and it’s like sinking into a warm bath.

Stop worrying about it being perfect, stop worrying about the music. You should only concentrate on your message and what you want to say to your audience.

Easy.

Take a deep breath, you’ve already done all the work.

 

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