The success of your email pitches has everything to do with piquing the curiosity of the presenter and getting her or him to click “play.” So if you want to book more concerts check your programming! Because if you’re not a household name, then it’s got to be your program description that hooks their interest.
Think about it from a presenter’s point of view. A relatively unknown artist, whose name alone will not attract an audience, playing a recital of standard repertoire — does that sound like a box office draw? After all, the audience can stay home and listen to recordings of these same masterworks by any number of legendary artists.
Presenters need to consider whether or not an artist can attract an audience. If the artist’s name won’t draw them in, creative programming is the answer.
This is programming that helps audiences connect with the music you love by offering context and a “story” around the works you perform. A through-line for the audience’s experience.
Why are you choosing to put these pieces together in the program? (And why should we care?)
It can’t simply be that you like these pieces, play them well, or that they’re ‘entertaining.’ Don’t simply assign a title to the program to make it seem like it’s a cohesive concert with a real spine.
The thing is, there usually IS a fascinating thread that connects the works. Otherwise you wouldn’t be performing them. But you may need to dig deep to identify what that connecting thread is.
Is there a central human question that these works seem to address? Communicate what idea or issue links the works: convey it in a way that fires your prospective audience’s curiosity.
Here are 3 concert program descriptions that captured my attention and got me wanting to attend them.
First up, here’s a project involving commissioned new works focused on a theme, how humans process trauma. It’s from . . .
Lucy Dhegrae, voice, artist residency project at National Sawdust
What do we do with trauma? Where does it go? How do we process the experience?
The Processing Series began with a prompt to four composers: write a piece for voice that deals with an aspect of trauma recovery. Inspired by the book The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, as well as personal trauma narratives, new pieces of music were created. One each from composers Eve Beglarian, Angélica Negrón, Osnat Netzer, and Katherine Young. Each with an incredibly different aesthetic, practice, and perspective on the aftermath of trauma and its complex imprint on the body, communication, and daily life.
Doesn’t that make your ears hungry? I’d love to go hear the whole series. And it’s focused on a relevant social issue — what social issues might you frame a program around?
Next, here’s recital programming that Aimard toured with this season. He’s not an emerging artist but my point is the programming itself is terrific.
This is a compare and contrast program. It’s framed by Beethoven masterworks, but these pieces are paired with surprising contrasting works so we get to hear everything with fresh ears.
Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano, Beethoven the Avant-gardist
Developed in response to the Beethoven 250 anniversary year, pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s program is a unique take on Beethoven’s legacy. Unfolding over two evenings, the program emphasizes Beethoven’s role as a leader in a tradition of musical innovation and contrasts his work with that of other innovators.
Arnold Schoenberg | Five Piano Pieces, Opus 23
Ludwig van Beethoven | Sonata for Piano no. 7 in D major, Opus 10, no. 3
Beethoven | Sonata for Piano no. 23 in F minor, Opus 57, “Appassionata”
Karlheinz Stockhausen | Klavierstück IX
Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck | Fantasia d3 – à 4: Echo, SwWV 260
George Benjamin | Shadowlines
Beethoven | Sonata in A Major, Opus 101
Alban Berg | Sonata for piano, Opus 1
Beethoven | Sonata in A-Flat major, Opus 110
You might look at your own repertoire and consider unusual pairings of composers, or how you might contrast sound worlds or genre.
And the third example here is a program from the conductor-less chamber orchestra A Far Cry. The link among these largely unfamiliar works is a shared history and location—and an indelible style linked to Hollywood, and American cultural history. This is how the program was described on the group’s site:
American Noir is a program about optimism that arises in very dark times. It is also a program about immigrants. This concert is made up primarily of music by Jewish immigrants who fled antisemitism in Europe and settled in Southern California. Their style set the tone for a generation of film music that still resonates in the high production value television series and films we watch today.
Franz Waxman: Sinfonietta for Strings and Timpani
George Walker: Lyric for String Orchestra
Vivian Fine: Piece for Muted Strings (Elegiac Song)
Igor Stravinsky: Double Canon (Raoul Dufy in Memoriam)
Samuel Barber: Adagio for Strings
Bernard Herrmann: Psycho Suite
Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Symphonic Serenade, Op. 39
Like the two examples above it, this program also piqued my curiosity and got me imagining what I’d hear. Noir refers to gritty 1940’s detective stories and film made from them — and there are many fans of the film genre that this program attracted, as well as fans of classic film composers Bernard Herrmann and Erich Wolfgang Korngold.
This is an example of using a resonant extra-musical idea to frame a program around. In considering your own repertoire, brainstorm possible extra-musical ideas that might link the works on one of your programs — to capture the interest of presenters and their audiences.
The lesson here: If you want to book more concerts, check your programming
Is it compelling: will it grab readers’ imaginations? Consider if there is a central idea that connects the works on the program. And look at how you’ve conveyed this in your program pitch.
If you’d like help writing better pitches so you can book better concerts, and you’re curious about receiving coaching from me, check the details here.
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Here’s to your forward motion,
Dream Big, Plan Smart, Live Well