Monday, June 6, 2011

Great Insights on Programming from Richard Sparks

One of the best blogs about the choral world is written by esteemed conductor Richard Sparks, which you can find here. Richard's blog is way different than mine, certainly more serious than some of the goofy things I post at times, and that's great.

Recently I rediscovered some of Richard's blogs on programming, which you can find grouped together by clicking here. There is some great reading for you there, and here are a few choice excerpts culled from various of the blog entries to pique your interest:

This is a reminder to always look for context when you perform a work--who was it written for? for what kind of space (church, theatre, concert hall)? what size and kind of ensemble? what purpose (liturgical, court, home)? These are always questions that can inform your performance.

With most of my programs, I start with a work or works I really want to do, then start building around it. For me, it's all about how the pieces chosen work together: they can contrast nicely, or several works can complement each other. In that sense, I want the audience to either feel the connections I've made or, in going from one set to another, to move to something that feels very fresh. For that reason, once I come up with a work or two that will "anchor" the program, then it's often a matter of figuring out what else will work well with it

All of us need to continually expand our knowledge of repertoire. This will also be shaped by the ensembles you conduct: the choral repertoire is broad and has so many sub-genres: treble, male, mixed, sacred, secular, for large ensemble, for small ensemble, etc., plus all levels from the most inexperienced choir to advanced repertoire only a professional choir could attempt

One of the glories of the choral medium is that there is such a wealth of repertoire to explore. We’ll never run out of it, and that’s one of the joys of this job. It should never be dull.

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.

My experiences with choirs at different levels tells me that doing challenging music is more often the limitation of the conductor/teacher—I’ve heard children’s choirs doing some amazing music, for example. They don’t know that mixed meters are difficult. If it’s presented to them well and matter-of-factly, they just do it.

Richard Sparks is Professor of Music at the University of North Texas, where he conducts the Chamber Choir and Collegium Singers, and teaches a variety of academic courses. He is also Artistic Director and Conductor of Pro Coro Canada in Edmonton, Alberta--a professional chamber choir; and a free-lance conductor/clinician working in the US, Canada, and Europe. He spent considerable time working with the Swedish Radio Choir in 2007 and 2008. He is Conductor Emeritus of Choral Arts in Seattle, WA (which he founded and conducted from 1993-2006) and was Director of Choral Activities at Pacific Lutheran University from 1983-2001.

1 comment:

  1. These are valuable thoughts! I agree it is paramount to balance the needs of our ensembles with those of our audiences. Perhaps in our passion for great music, we are sometimes self-indulgent in programming, and have demanded too much of our listeners. This could pertain to the phenomenon of dwindling audiences in classical music venues. I need to learn more about creative programming, and I appreciate your posting these thoughts.