How to choose good music for a concert

kaderschaufel

New Member
ok, I'm making a list of tips for choosing good music for a concert; feel free to extend it, contradict it, or comment on it.

- Appreciate the importance of a good concert program. By choosing the right pieces, you can add so much to the concert without even practicing. Don't choose pieces which are "good", only choose pieces which are fantastic - otherwise your audience can just as well stay at home and watch Netflix, there's a lot of good stuff up there too.

- Listen to a lot of music: It's certainly right to listen to the recent concert CDs of the best bands (Black Dyke, Cory, Brighouse), but that's not everything. Some publishers, like Hal Leonard, Obrasso or Bernaerts Music, regularly produce CDs of their music. Also, you might find some pearls if you listen to non-British bands, like Eikanger from Norway, or Brass Band Berner Oberland from Switzerland, both of which are anxious to do new stuff.

- Don't restrict yourself to original Brass Band music, or you will miss out.

- Don't do it on your own, get other people's opinions, and be prepared for them disliking your favourite piece. Remember that musical experience is very subjective, and it's not ok if you're the only one who likes a certain piece.

- Don't include too many solos. The audience will come primarily for the band sound, not necessarily for the soloists, otherwise they could go to a chamber music concert. It's fine to have one or two solos for the sake of variety, but that's enough.

- Don't be afraid of primitive music, primitive music isn't always bad music. Some of the greatest pieces of music ever, Bolero and In the Hall of the Mountain King, are very primitive. Also, it's not a crime to play pop-song-arrangements or Paul Lovatt-Cooper.

- If you're doing a themed concert, don't choose the pieces based on their name, but based on what they sound like, because the sound is what makes the audience experience the right mood: E.g. if you're doing a Spanish-themed concert, don't include the Barber of Seville - it sounds Italian, not Spanish, despite Seville being a Spanish city.

- Don't do too much old stuff, or the percussionists will hate you.

- Be careful with jazz, a lot of people don't like it, don't include more than one or two jazz pieces.

- Remember what brass bands do best: Slow music and Hymn tunes. It's always good to include several hymn tune arrangements in your program.
 

4th Cornet

Well-Known Member
Don't just focus on the pieces, consider how the pieces fit together in a programme; mood, tempo, style, theme etc. all contribute to maintaining audience interest at least as much as the chosen pieces themselves.

Having a good compere with interesting, mood-setting, story-telling introductions can completely change how a programme is received. Sharing why a piece was chosen, interesting points to listen out for, what mood it is intended to create etc. can have the effect of almost hypnotising the listener into maximum enjoyment. If you don't have an effective compere, you need to work harder at choosing engaging pieces.

A couple of point I don't necessarily agree with...

Solos. Often these are the most talked about and memorable items and are usually accompanied by 'the band sound' anyway. Solos do need to be selected according to the player's strengths; whilst there is an argument to play solos for player development, I've sat through several where the soloist, band and audience have clearly felt uncomfortable because the solo wasn't suitable for the player or ready for public performance.

Themes based on sound not title. Taking your example of the Barber of Seville sounding Italian not Spanish, this could be an opportunity to create variety within the theme, whilst still maintaining the thread.
 

Tom-King

Well-Known Member
One glaring omission....

Consider your acoustic.

For example - if going into a boomy church and playing something fast and intricate the detail will get lost, be sympathetic to that and focus on playing that will be complemented by the acoustic.
 

Queeg2000

Active Member
You need to consider your audience too. While a lot of older people wouldn't want to hear you play brass arrangements of popular music, a younger audience will be bored to death with a more traditional program.
 

Euphonium Lite

Active Member
You need to consider your audience too. While a lot of older people wouldn't want to hear you play brass arrangements of popular music, a younger audience will be bored to death with a more traditional program.

Definitely this. Although its knowing your usual or likely audience demographic and planning accordingly - thats not to say you shouldnt include modern music when an audience is "older" and vice-versa

Ask any member of the public however what sort of music brass bands play and you will usually get the answer "Marches" and "Hymns". I'd say ANY programme should ideally include one of each (or a piece containing a march or hymn section) as people will normally only come to a brass band concert if they like brass bands, and there will be a certain expectation of the type of pieces that may be included. Perhaps more "modern" or "popular" stuff is better left to park and similar concerts where you are likely to attract passers-by rather than a pay to sit in a hall type affair

Appreciate its not everyone's cup of tea to play some of this stuff but you have to bear in mind the reason for doing a concert, which is playing to an audience - otherwise you may as well do an open rehearsal. Not many people attending a brass band concert will want to hear wall to wall Bon Jovi stuff, even if the band like playing it, and playing that kind of music too regularly is likely to see your audience dwindle

Its also being aware of the standard of your band - top section bands (especially the "big names") are likely to attract an audience of brass band players but a 4th section band are more likely to see people that know very little of brass bands and the repertoire other than the aforementioned "obvious"
 

2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
I’m just a player, so don’t input into piece selection at all, but I have a few observations to share.

Pick pieces that the Band both enjoy and can reliably play well, they need to enjoy the Concert too and no one, including the MD, wants the worry of any piece potentially going badly.

Give the play list out early. Perhaps I’m not a typical player but I like to: have my pieces in order well before the performance, locate anything that’s misfiled and polish any bits that are tricky.

When you’re going to be playing outside don’t pick pieces that have noticeably tricky page turns, etc. When outside the weather’s too likely to take (away) someone’s music and ‘stuff’ happens. Who wants needless worry or hassle?

Before doing anything else really consider both the nature of the event and the ‘makeup’ of the likely audience; where are you playing, what works and what doesn’t in that (particular) venue and what are your (particular) audience looking for from that (particular ) performance? Obviously a summer ‘Park job’ will be different to an indoor Christmas Concert which will be different to a Remembrance Day Church Service, but other performances will also be different too.

Listen to other Bands perform in the types of event that you also plan to do and observe everything you possiblely can - obviously listen to Bands that aren’t overly dissimilar to yours as otherwise the information gained will be of limited use to you. Take notes on what worked and what didn’t, and see if you can understand why. See what you can learn, you’re not there (I hope) to steal their ideas but rather to come away better informed about both things to avoid and things to emulate.

Our MD is reasonably good at talking to the audience, in knowing what to say and when to keep quiet too. That Compère function or role is important and, on reflection, I think both undervalued and not properly understood. The Compère’s words are, in a way, music too to the audience’s ears and an integral part of the performance. Their words (can) set the scene in the audience’s mind and provide a frame within which both individual played pieces sit and the event is heard. As, or if, the Compère’s words are music then they also need to be included in the performance planning.

As ever YMMV.
 
Last edited:

4th Cornet

Well-Known Member
Definitely this. Although its knowing your usual or likely audience demographic and planning accordingly - thats not to say you shouldnt include modern music when an audience is "older" and vice-versa

Ask any member of the public however what sort of music brass bands play and you will usually get the answer "Marches" and "Hymns". I'd say ANY programme should ideally include one of each (or a piece containing a march or hymn section) as people will normally only come to a brass band concert if they like brass bands, and there will be a certain expectation of the type of pieces that may be included. Perhaps more "modern" or "popular" stuff is better left to park and similar concerts where you are likely to attract passers-by rather than a pay to sit in a hall type affair

Appreciate its not everyone's cup of tea to play some of this stuff but you have to bear in mind the reason for doing a concert, which is playing to an audience - otherwise you may as well do an open rehearsal. Not many people attending a brass band concert will want to hear wall to wall Bon Jovi stuff, even if the band like playing it, and playing that kind of music too regularly is likely to see your audience dwindle

Its also being aware of the standard of your band - top section bands (especially the "big names") are likely to attract an audience of brass band players but a 4th section band are more likely to see people that know very little of brass bands and the repertoire other than the aforementioned "obvious"

Sounds like you share my views on programmes.

I do think that casual audiences on outside jobs are more sophisticated than we sometimes give them credit for. Pieces played with conviction, presented well by a band that looks like they're enjoying the music (genuinely, not hamming it up) and a good compere helping to engage the audience will open up our movement and new repertoire to more people.

I've said it before, but so often I see brass bands who make no attempt to engage audiences. I've played many an outdoor concert where when I've asked if anyone is compering, the answer has been along the lines of 'I can't be bothered, it's only background music'. We must be bothered - make every event more than background music. Our performances are the best publicity tool we have so don't waste them.

With regards to your last paragraph, my experience is that concerts by ANY section are mainly attended by people that already have experience with brass bands, although in the lower sections it's usually family and friends of players.
 
Top