Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Richard Sparks on programming

Richard Sparks, a well-regarded, internationally reknowned Seattle-based choral conductor, is the man to listen to about both the artistry and business of choirs. He currently is Artistic Director and Conductor of Pro Coro Canada in Edmonton, and last year, directed the debut concert of the Bay Area's own Chorlalis, to much acclaim. He is the author of the blog, Richard Sparks - Music, Conducting, Choirs, and recently made some cogent observations about choral programming. With his permission, I re-post his entry below

January 12, 2008: Programming II
So, last time I talked about the importance of thinking of repertoire in programming from the standpoint of the needs of the chorus and individual singers to maximize their growth.

But what about the needs of the audience? Or of the institution that supports you if you’re not an independent choir (or your board, if it is)?

You can’t forget about those needs (or at least you shouldn’t if you want to keep your job!), but the challenge is to balance those with what the choir needs to do.

Again, your own situation will determine much of this. A church choir serves a specific function (which requires certain kinds of repertoire), but this can vary from an Episcopal/Anglican choir that draws almost exclusively from British Anglican traditions to a choir that does primarily praise music . . . and everything in between.

School choirs have their own educational requirements that may vary considerably. Some public schools in the US may find it difficult to do much sacred music, or perhaps have pressure to “entertain.” There are always external expectations (tradition, administrative, parents) to deal with as well.

Most choirs have repertoire expectations associated with them (sometimes clearly laid out, sometimes not), from those that specialize in music of a certain period or ethnic background, to choirs with a distinct educational purpose. You may also have other expectations: an annual Messiah performance, a spring pops concert, a tour program, or what have you. All of this has to be taken into account.

Pro Coro Canada, my ensemble based in Edmonton, Alberta, is a professional chamber choir with a 6 or 7-concert series. I conduct 4 concerts, our associate conductor conducts one, and guests take the others. Since we’re an independent choir that needs sufficient ticket income to survive, I have to create programs that will be marketable and will appeal to our audience. While I’m given the power by the board to make all programming choices, with that goes the responsibility to make sure I draw audiences, too. That’s where balancing my needs (or desires) and the choir’s needs with what the audience is willing to hear. In the long run, I won’t keep my job if audiences disappear and no one’s happy with the music we do.

Like most of you, we do a Christmas concert that has fairly broad appeal each year. We also have the tradition of a Good Friday concert—this doesn’t have to be specifically music for Lent, Good Friday, or Easter, but should fit generally—thus we’ve done a number of different Requiems, Bach’s Mass in B Minor Ivan Moody’s Passion and Resurrection, a wonderful commissioned work by Alberta composer Allan Bevan (Nou goth sonne under wood—the audience came to hear the Mozart Requiem, but Allan’s was the piece that got the extended standing ovation), and Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil. As a professional choir supported by the Canada Council, we need to do significant Canadian works each season. Additionally, for the past number of years we’ve had a grant from the Wirth Foundation for Central European Studies to support doing all the late masses of Haydn, along with works by other composers from central Europe. There are then a lot of “givens” in any season I plan. I also want guest conductors to bring something special to the choir (thinking of the choir’s long-term growth, remember?) and I therefore want them to do music they love and do well. I have to advise them (since they don’t know the choir or audience expectations) and they’ll have budget limitations, but I try to give them as much freedom as I can. Recent guest conductors have included Maria Guinand, Anders Eby, Gary Graden, Ivars Taurins, and Leonard Ratzlaff, all who bring something important to Pro Coro and the Edmonton community.

Every one of you has “givens” as well that are necessary and important in your repertoire planning/programming. I know that while much will be laid out for you, you shouldn’t forget to balance those with the needs of your choir for their own growth as well.

Yes, there’s still more . . .
Link to original posting


Lisa Hirsch said...

That's great, you are right.

There is a Bay Area chorus whose performances I stopped attending after I heard from a member about how the director ran it, with, I felt, no eye toward developing the choir members' musical skills.

learn and master guitar said...

you are right about your article. It's still depends on the director how to run it. If he is really a good conductor well, choir members will definitely develop their skills. Most of the time, the choir success would depend on the director.

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