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!