Some Pointers for Concert Logistics

I have never been shy about my opinions on the logistics of running a concert. I think they’re tremendously important, and also often overlooked, with the result that many classical music concerts are considerably more tedious than they need to be, a state of affairs that does nobody any favors. Like it or not, presentation matters. Concert presenters who don’t take these details into account come across as disorganized and inadequately prepared. My frustration is amplified, I think, by the amount of time I’ve spent in the theatrical world. As anyone who’s done a play or musical can tell you, the rehearsal process devotes a lot of time to hammering out logistical details like set changes and lighting cues, a hammering out that’s almost never been done for the classical concerts I’ve been a part of. Granted, the logistics for classical concerts are usually less daunting — most string quartet performances don’t call for hundreds of light and sound cues along with various large pieces of scenery flying in and out from above, after all — but that makes it all the more irritating to see them muffed again and again and again.

Some time ago, after listening to me gripe about a concert that was particularly bad at this, a composer friend of mine asked if I wouldn’t be willing to put together some kind of checklist or document that outlines specific things that concert presenters should keep in mind when hashing out the logistics of putting on a show. This is that document.

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Don’t Call It That

Over on Medium, Craig Havighurst has a new solution to the perennial question that haunts many a musical conversation: Can we please find a better term for “Classical Music”? Almost every musician I know in that scene has some beef with the term (Alex Ross, in fact, “[hates] it”), but the most well known alternatives — Concert Music, Art Music, Western Art Music — all have issues too, and none of them are really better enough to be gaining much ground. Coming up with something satisfying is a tall task given the ground to cover, from the Medieval chants of Hildegard to the secular explosions of Boulez and everything between and beyond, especially if you’re hoping for something that’s short and pithy to boot.

Havighurst’s proposal? Composed Music.

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Why You Should Never Use Rehearsal Letters

It happens to the best of ensembles: In the middle of rehearsal, something will go wrong. Rather than start all the way back at the beginning of the piece — which would waste precious rehearsal time, not to mention result in rehearsing things that are already solid — the group will pick things up somewhere in the middle. To get everyone on the same page, they’ll often find a rehearsal mark.

Rehearsal marks — in this format specifically, they’re rehearsal letters — and composers (or editors or engravers) will dot them thruout the score to mark significant landmarks in the piece to aid in the rehearsal process. In traditional Western musical notation, and still as the default setting for most engraving software today, they’ve taken the form pictured above: A capital letter inside a circle or a box. This is an unfortunate practice that should absolutely be discontinued — basically all rehearsal marks should be boxed bar numbers instead.

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Consider the Audience

This past Tuesday, I had an underwhelming experience with the LA Phil. The concert was an "All-American" chamber show, the first offering in their "Next on Grand" series, a celebration of contemporary American composers. The underwhelmingness wasn't the fault of the music, or not entirely. As with most grab-bag contemporary concerts, I was fonder of some selections than others, despite the consistently high level of performance on display. No, the music alone was fine. What really bothered me were the set changes.

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No More Boring Bios

We need to talk about bios, y'all.

I don't mean book-length, formally published biographies. Those books are a diverse bunch, and the ones I've read haven't been plagued by any repeating issues — whatever failings they have are idiosyncratic and individual, not representative of the genre as a whole. No, I'm talking about the short little bios that get slipped into concert programs, sometimes as part of the notes for a given piece, but more often as standalone entries in the "About Tonight's Artists" section.

On the whole, these bios are terrible.

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