Adventures in Programming

by Amy Rice-Young

There’s a performance coming soon and you are in charge of it.  Assuming all of the details have been established, there is one VERY IMPORTANT factor that can make this successful for both you and the audience; or can make it “just another performance.”  Yes, that’s right, the PROGRAM!  Programming is one of the most neglected aspects of successful performance.  Too often, the performer, conductor, manager, or whomever will say ”fine” to almost anything, just to have it finished.  This is fair to neither the performer nor the audience.  Developing good programs can be a fun challenge and make an otherwise ordinary performance much more enjoyable.

What consideration do we have in planning a program?  There are many different circumstances for which we perform.  Some programs are meant to educate, some are for fun, some for children; however, all are to entertain.  How long is the program?  How many performers will there be and how well do they play?  Do you need to feature the winner of a competition?  Will there be another group involved?  These are just a few of the many considerations you should review when developing a program.

Next you should consider your budget.  After you subtract your constant expenses such as salaries and overhead, how much money will remain for extras?  This will influence your program by helping to determine if you can hire extra performers that might be needed for some pieces.  There might be a need for a narrator or choreographer.  Some music is quite expensive, or is available only on a rental basis.  Make sure you can afford to program these works.  Other expenses for more extravagant programs you may decide to produce yourself include hall rental, lights, setup, and wardrobe or costumes.  It’s amazing how quickly the costs of some programs can add up; especially if you should decide upon a “theme” program.

Following a theme is your personal decision; it can be very beneficial to some programs.  By having a theme, your audience will have a good idea of what the program will be about.  Themes that are more interesting will attract a larger audience.  Themes may be determined by the time of year, focus on a particular country, or use children’s music as a guide.  The success of a themed program will depend on the follow-through.  The theme should not only include the music, but involve the costumes, choreography, and narration. You can have lots of fun finding music to adapt to your theme and developing an entire program that presents a cohesive message to your audience.

Programs can be divided into two very general categories; educational and fun.  While they often cross each others paths, considering which category your program falls into will help you decide your music and theme.  Programs for education often involve school programs and college recitals.  When performing school programs, keep in mind the age of your audience, their level of knowledge, and keep them less than 45 minutes in length.  The real trick is to keep them fun and light to maintain the audience’s interest.  If time permits, allow time for a Q&A session at the end; you might consider a demonstration on the various instruments used in the program.  College recitals are entirely different as they usually count for credit towards a degree program.  They may also be part of a faculty concert or a program that is part of a music school agenda.  These programs should typically follow a more traditional pattern; such as chronological order or other requirements the college may specify.  You can still add interest to these programs by premiering new works, adding other instruments or ensembles, or any number of other entertaining options.

The second general category, fun, might be programs that are part of a concert series or for individuals.  Knowing your audience plays a key role in determining the program.  You should also consider where the concert is being held.  If you are planning an entire concert series, program the entire series at the same time.  This will help avoid duplication in music and themes, and give you direction to the entire series.

Developing a great program, although often neglected, can be tremendous fun and an excellent learning opportunity.  Time and patience is required and keeping yourself organized. ALRY Publications is here to help you plan your program.  We can offer advice with music selection and appropriate themes that will make your program and performance exciting for all audiences.