Old Friends

On Sunday, John, Anton, Hans and I began rehearsals for our performance on October 13.

When I get a new performance opportunity, my gut instinct is to find a whole new program – music we’ve not performed before. I don’t know exactly where this impulse comes from. Perhaps it’s from my earliest training, in elementary and high school, where the three or four times per year concerts were always done with new repertoire.

Of course, that made complete sense in context. Our dedicated audience consisted primarily if not exclusively of our parents. And the ostensible reason for the music program in the first place would have been to expose us to different composers, styles, et cetera.

But does that approach make sense in the context of an ensemble like this one? Unlike in school, we don’t (yet) have a dedicated/exclusive audience. Each new series that books us brings in their own audience, and we bring along what audience we can (are you on our mailing list?). This means that, probably, the majority of the audience at any one concert has not heard us or our music before.

And so, relieved of the burden of complete originality, I have set a program for October 13 that is 80% the same as our performance on March 10. This means that these pieces, rather than being oh-my-god-what-is-happening-here exercises in learning notes, are old friends to us.

Playing through the list (see the post promoting October 13 performance), I enjoyed the feeling of recognizing what I was doing, of hearing the harmonies clearly, instead of the muddled-up confusion that often accompanies our first readings of things.

Yes, I do feel a twinge of guilt at this. There’s still something in me that wants to demonstrate my readiness for a challenge, the challenge of mastering something new. And it is also the case that when Michael Hovnanian left the group, he expressed frustration at always working on the same material. (And no offense to Michael, we were a bit stuck in a rut at that point. It’s one of the reasons I invested a good chunk of cash in repertoire the following year.)

But there exists also the fact that “mastery” is not necessarily achieved at a first performance. Assuaging my guilty feelings, I set a new challenge, that we will play these old friends better than before.

I would love to hear from those of you who perform regularly in your own groups: what’s your philosophy for adding or changing repertoire? How important, how often, HOW? Please leave a comment!

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7 Responses to “Old Friends”

  1. Carole says:

    Great post, and understandably frustrating situation in which many find themselves! As a staff member at 5HE (and the one who receives our Twitter mentions), I have a bit of insight into this from an operations perspective. I feel that 5HE has found a good balance of effectively repeating rep that we have prepared for various concerts and introducing new rep by programming a series of new, self produced concerts each year during which we play almost all new pieces, or every once in a while an old favorite we’re dying to reprise, but then also looking to book either repeat concerts around the city, suburbs, or on tour that will utilize the hard work our musicians have put into preparing the pieces and lowering the rehearsal to performance ratios. And then in the following months, and even possibly at the beginning of the next season, we also use those pieces to put together programs for different presenters.

    That’s not the only way we do it, but it is one way! Best of luck!

  2. Matt Erion says:

    Funny I’d be reading this as I’m procrastinating putting together sets for a performance I have this weekend. I just have a few stray thoughts.

    A diverse repertoire is often a favorite of the musicians, not necessarily the audience. While traditional classical orchestras rotate a repertoire, as the public gets more used to hitting a feeder bar for entertainment “that’s familiar” gains real cachet.

    My favorite artists could play the same songs and I wouldn’t care, though to be fair Jazz is always something new on some level. In fact, if I don’t hear certain songs I get disappointed.

    For my own group, I do focus on what we sound the best at, i.e. what produces the best product for the audience?

    Bottom line, the only way to know for sure is to do what you are doing. My guess is you appear so infrequently most won’t notice, but I’m sure you’ll get at least one audience member who will say that you played that last time.

  3. Jacque Harper says:

    @MaestraKimD responded to my tweet on this subject, saying “Program for the event rather than your rep list!”

    …which is also a valid opinion. Kim is the director of the “Sounds of the South Loop” series, where we played in March, 2013.

  4. Joe Lewis says:

    Whatever works, in my opinion, for the situation you’re in. The standard paradigm is ||: rehearse | perform | learn new works : ||. When a classical group goes on tour, the perform function doesn’t end until the tour is over. However, I know several ensembles that pretty much play the same set every time, with a mixin of maybe 10% to 30% new rep every performance. It can evolve over time. Whatever is right for you…

  5. Joe Lewis says:

    Bored smiley defeated my nice little repeat sign in that last comment… 😀

  6. Jacque Harper says:

    I tried backslashes, -pre- and -code- tags, but had to resort to adding a space to make your closing repeat sign work.

    Thanks for the comment!

  7. Jacque Harper says:

    @eighthblackbird tweeted a response: “a fascinating issue. We return to rep lots, and try to find something unique to do with it. Considered memorizing?”

    …and yes, that’s one of the things that I’ve been thinking of doing. Is it weird if only one member of a group goes off book? Or do you just keep a music stand in front of you so it’s not like you’re showing up the rest of the group in public?

    And how else does one perform “Poucha Dass” which is for solo bass, six solid pages without a rest? I need those cool iPad music stands that Fifth House Ensemble uses.

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