Planning the Perfect Concert Program
By NAfME member Tom Dean
Your concert is coming up; you and your students have been working on the selected repertoire for a while now—things are coming along nicely and the time for the performance is close at hand.
With careful advance planning, the result will be a much more positive experience for everyone: for audience members, students, and for you, the director. Without attention to planning, it can feel like all the work that you and your students have done in preparing the music is underappreciated, especially when a parent or administrator approaches you after the performance to complain about something.
You have already painstakingly chosen your repertoire, but the order of the music is nearly as important as the music itself. Really take some time to observe your students as they rehearse a piece. Which pieces excite them, which ones tend to tire them out, and which ones require extra focus? What is going to be the best piece for the ensemble to open the concert with—what do they sing with great confidence and energy? The same question needs to be asked for the closing. Sure, the response of the audience is important, but in an educational setting the needs of the performing group must take precedence. Use contrasting selections throughout the middle of the concert to allow for variety for the performers and audience and to allow the concert to have a nice ebb and flow.
Staging: Do you have multiple groups? Will some people have to move on and off the stage? Do you have a group where risers are inappropriate or not needed? Consider this carefully and practice these moves with the students so that the concert flows well, both for the performers and for the audience. Too much down time is a bad thing.
Concert dates: If possible, have all of your concert dates planned well in advance—maybe before you leave for summer break. Check the school calendar, athletic calendar, and (if applicable) the district calendar. Avoiding conflicts in advance is important—as well as putting those dates in the school calendar so that others do not infringe upon your chosen dates. Fill out the relevant forms and notify those in charge to reserve the concert space well before the concert, if possible. This gives you the chance for a few rehearsals with your group during the school day prior to the concert as well as time to clean up after the concert. Arrange for risers and shells to be set up, or organize students or parents to help with that task.
Program: People love to see their names in print, and parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles love to see their family member’s name in print even more. This is especially true for a musical concert. The number-one complaint after a concert is a variant of “you left my son/daughter out of the program” or “you spelled my son/daughter’s name wrong in the program.” That may leave you thinking—what happens if I don’t put anyone’s name in the program? Trust me, you don’t want to find out. Put together a list of the student names and then have the students check their names themselves. Check it yourself, have someone else proof it, and then check it again. Save yourself the aggravation and the #1 complaint.
Besides the performers, other items to include are:
- The exact order of the group performances and songs
- A page describing your program and your school
- A page that describes the expectations of the audience
- Administrators’ names—principals, superintendents, deans of schools, etc. (yes, they like to see their names in print too)
- Make sure you thank the custodial staff that helped set up the risers and the secretaries who put your program together and print it
- Parent organization leaders
- Recognition of students—such as: student leaders within the organization, students who made an all-national, state, regional or divisional group, students in the group who made honor roll, student athletes, etc.
- List of upcoming events for the music department and the school
Try to find a nice graphic that incorporates some aspect of the season or school for the front cover, and be sure to give yourself plenty of time to have the program printed.
Ask your parents, in advance, to help out with such tasks as selling tickets, taking tickets, handing out programs and serving as ushers. You and your students will be too busy getting ready for the concert to attend to these tasks.
Advertise your concert! It is always nice to have a large crowd, so make sure to advertise your upcoming concert well in advance both inside and outside of the school. Put it on the school announcements, send it to the community newspaper, print up flyers and have students ask shopkeepers to display them, contact local radio and television stations, and see if local places of worship will post it in their bulletins.
Write a script of what exactly you want to say from the stage. Too often, teachers don’t do this and they end up rambling or completely forgetting important points that they meant to say. Write it down!
Consider having a student or an administrator take on the task of announcing the group or selections and any program notes instead of doing it yourself. This will allow you to focus on the task at hand and set the students up for a spectacular performance.
About the author:
NAfME member Tom Dean is School Choral Editor for J.W. Pepper & Son, Inc. Prior to working for Pepper, Tom taught instrumental and choral music as well as audio engineering at the high school level in Delaware public schools for 32 years. He is a member of the ACDA and is active in the Delaware Music Educators Association where he served in numerous positions including President, All-State Coordinator, Technology Chair, and Composition Chair, and NAfME where he served as Eastern Division President and National Executive Board member. He was a member of the music writing team that developed the new music standards for the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards project.
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