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What’s your order?

March 25, 2012

As you’ve begun to get some performances under your belt, you’ve likely thought about the order that you will play your program. Choosing the order is probably rather easy if you’re playing only two, three, four, or even five pieces. It can be a bit more complicated if you’re playing a larger program, especially if you have lots of small pieces. Here, I’ll go over the process that many musicians use to determine their program order. Some of the reasons may seem rather intuitive, but deliberately enumerating them can help you think of all perspectives and can be helpful later when you have other programs to order and the order doesn’t jump out immediately.

A tried and true order that many musicians swear by is chronological. The logic here is that each period of music served as the basis for the next, so hearing classical/baroque era music will prep the listener for romantic/impressionist music, which will in turn prep the listener for modern music. Of course, you might have to make some adjustments if some of the pieces were written very close to one another. There, simply use the logic behind the basic rule; if you have three pieces written in 1950, 1953, and 1957, then order them so that the most modern or progressive sounding is last while the piece that looks backward in time should be played first.

However, there are some issues with that model. What if the last piece you play by the method is a very slow, and rather unimpressive. Is that really the final note you’d like to leave the listener. Ditto for the first piece. Also, what if you’re playing 6 pieces, all from the same decade? They probably all sound the same, so how should you order them.

Although I largely agree with the chronological order logic, at the same time, I firmly believe that the performer has other considerations. For instance, he would probably like to start and end with a bang. On top of that, if there is an intermission, he should consider whether or not he’d like to move into the intermission with exciting music, or some more peaceful.

Furthermore, considering the audience is important. You will not want their ears to get tired by listening to music that is the same style or the same intensity level for too long. On top of that, you’ll want to make sure that you give yourself breaks during the program by inserting more manageable pieces into the middle.

Here’s an example. For my high school senior recital, I performed the CPE Bach Sonata (1700s), Renie’s Legende (1903), Grandjany’s Rhapsodie (1923), and the Britten Suite (1969). Right there is the chronological order, but the final order ended up being: Grandjany, Bach, Britten, Renie. The logic here was the Grandjany is an impressive piece, so its a great opener. In fact, the piece is intended as a recital opener, so that logic is sound. Next, I proceeded in chronological order. I played Renie last since the piece is impressive, and the ending is especially so. Placing Britten right before Renie makes sense using the chronological order (if you take at face value that Renie should go last) because it comes after Bach, but it is also an excellent segue because the very end of the piece allows the performer to calm down before having to expend so much energy for Renie. Moreover, the beginning of Renie and the ending of Britten have similar intensity levels, so the transition is smooth for the audience.

Hopefully seeing the process has been helpful, and happy practicing!

STK

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 27, 2012 5:50 pm

    Hello from another harpist! I just had to comment and say what a program for your high school recital! Couldn’t agree with you more about the order, Rhapsodie is the perfect opener. For my Final Recital I opened with the Roussel Impromptu, then Bach-Grandjany Fugue, then Hindemith Sonata, then a contemporary piece by Andy Scott, and finished with Faure Impromptu. So same sort of idea :-)

    Happy Harping x

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