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Playbill from Eva Gauthier's breakthrough 1923...

Image via Wikipedia / OK, so it's not much of a pic ~ look at the program!

Greg Sandow, American music critic and composer, is writing a book entitled “Rebirth:  The Future of Classical Music.” A recent post on his blog speaks to his line of thought.

Upon reading his well-considered post, I found myself commenting rather extensively.

The topic concerns programming “lighter” music as part of a concert.  Is it a sellout?  Unacceptable?  Dumbing down to the audience?

Let’s continue the conversation!

My comment (beginning)

“Hi Greg,

I agree, and can speak to #7, especially.”

[This next section (indented) is from a portion of Sandow’s post, originally written by Ken Nielsen.]

“7. I believe that greater engagement with and involvement of the audience is an important part of the puzzle. A concert should be more like communication than a one-sided speech. .”

My comment (cont.)

“For the past 2 or 3 yrs., I’ve been speaking to audiences to introduce a piece if it’s unusual. They love it! Contemporary music and Bach fugues both qualify.

First, they immediately feel like they’re welcome participants, not cabbages who are expected to just sit there.

Second, when something is introduced in friendly, not dry, terms, they are able to listen and understand some of what they hear.

How do I know this? They make a point of talking to me afterwards! When I’ve played Messiaen, people tell me about the pictures they saw in their heads.

One of my favorite scenarios is to introduce some Messiaen preludes, then let the audience know that Gershwin is next! That way they know that even if they don’t like 7 or 8 minutes of the program, they’ll be able to go home happy.

Take care,


There are other instances of programming “lighter” music, of course.  Two of those would involve presenting an entire concert of “lighter” music or playing simplified versions.

I do not believe that any audience needs to be accommodated by simplifying the program. It is important to me to try for a good “fit,” matching the type of audience with the sort of program offered.  But that feels like a different way of going about programming.

Meeting the audience where it is has always been successful for me.  I find it important to speak to my audiences without talking down to them, but also without assuming that everyone has a music degree.

Inquiring in advance about the likely makeup of the expected audience is very helpful.  Talking to the person who hired you is usually an excellent place to start.

One way to arrive at a place that works, for me, is to remember what it feels like for me when a different field of expertise is involved.  I have had economics explained to me in clear terms, without jargon.  And that same approach is entirely possible in speaking to audiences about our programs.

Another example: I’m completely out of the loop when I walk into a hardware store!  (Well, OK, I’m a little better than I used to be…)  So I always find the manager immediately and ask for help.  That effort always saves me at least 1/2 hour!

So, what do you think?  Do you program “lighter” music?  What percentage of your program is devoted to that?  What are the circumstances?

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

And while you’re here, please check out my new E-book!  It’s called “Goal-oriented Practicing:  How to Avoid Traps and Become a Confident PerformerBoth individual and volume purchase rates available!  Buy now, before the price increase!!!

Also, a progress note:  next week’s post will be “My Brain on Rep, cont.”  The one-week delay is due to my having whatever bug was going around, so, no practice.  Better now, though.

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