Programming music like planning a menu


It occurred to me, while choosing music for my forthcoming Valentine’s Day Concert, that the process of programming a concert is not dissimilar to planning a menu.

One is constantly thinking of the audience (guests). Will they like and appreciate what they hear (taste)? What is the theme? Should there be one? What should we begin with? Something to warm up, open up their hearing (taste buds), etc. What’s the right balance of the familiar (safe) and unfamiliar (new but risky)? What should be the order? Alternating fast – slow – fast – slow (cold vs hot; salty vs sweet; wet vs dry). What is the right number of pieces (courses)? How long should each piece be?

As I ponder over the choice of work, I remember a research study I had conducted with a Swedish violinist on programming music for elderly audiences. It’s not about tempo but everything about mood. What kind of mood do we want to convey to the audience?

Does the chef think of evoking feelings or memories in the guests who taste his menu?

Once upon a time I was told to programme music chronologically, for that’s how music has evolved. Begin with a piece from the Baroque Era, move through the Classical Period, Romantic Era, before braving the new world with a contemporary piece of a living composer. This is the not only formula.

I have examined the order of pieces in the concerts I’ve attended. Sometimes it’s good to start with an unfamiliar piece, even one from an unknown, living composer. Enough unfamiliar pieces call for a resolution of the unknown to a convergence in the familiar. Take the audience back to their comfort zone.

Probably one of the most powerful concerts is one in which the pieces are connected, via a common thread or storyline following a theme.

I should speak to a chef whether programming music really is like planning a menu.

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Filed under art, audience, concert, culture, food, planning

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