How I Choose What To Conduct
Starting my orchestra has never been about making money. Making money has always been secondary. First and foremost I want to give musicians and singers an opportunity to perform together. I won’t choose programmes that are known in the theatre industry as “pot-boilers” - that is to say hugely popular, often overdone, chosen to get bums on seats. By the same token I won’t choose stuff that’s “out-there” that would only appeal to a narrow spectrum of people. Passion is the key for me. I won’t conduct something that bores me as the orchestra would be bored and so would the audience. In this blog I give you a small glimpse of my process on choosing a programme and indeed the items that’ll be featured.
What I’m Not Interested In
When I first started SSOCs, I received an email from another orchestra who were very concerned about my starting up. Among the quotes were, “We’ve been established since…”, “There are only a finite number of musicians in the area and many local people play for us…”, “We very often have award winning soloists playing for us.” I won’t lie, this raised my hackles a little but I politely pointed out that there is room for everyone and people can choose for whom they play. I also informed the person that we don’t own our musicians.
The truth is that I’m not interested in hiring an award winning soloist (or any soloist for that matter). Yes, that may well sell a few tickets…but I want to (eventually) sell tickets on our own merits. I’m not interested in finding some reality TV star to come and perform with us (no matter how amazing they are). If someone [“famous”] approached me and said they’d love to come and perform with us because they like what we do then I might consider it. But the whole idea of SSOCs is not about the ego…ego gets nipped in the bud very quickly!
I have lots of ideas buzzing round my head on a daily basis. These all get written down. Then I’ll research the items that could possibly fit a theme. I don’t want to just do random stuff; there needs to be a theme or link. I have a list of items I’m desperate to conduct so these are on a separate list; I will then try and find a way to incorporate them somehow. Sometimes the programme will be about a solo composer (Mozart or Gershwin for example). Other times it’ll be a “celebration” (Halloween, Christmas, St. George’s Day).
Once I’ve got my theme, I listen to as much music that would fit the programme. I create playlists and constantly add and take away items. The only stipulation I put on myself is that I have to be passionate about the piece I’m going to conduct. Passionate is a strong word, but the music has to excite me, or move me, before I’ll even consider conducting it. An item will get the 30 second test. If I listen to it and I’m not hooked within 30 seconds - it gets deleted. Then there’s the 45 second test. Am I still interested? Yes, it goes on for one minute, no - deleted.
Choosing Specific Items
I plan my concerts at least 18 months in advance. One of the reasons I plan this far in advance is that sometimes a programme just doesn’t work. I have an idea for a theme, but there simply aren’t enough items to fill a programme (at the moment). Whilst this can be annoying, I’m philosophical about it and move quickly on. Another reason for choosing this far in advance is that it gives me plenty of time to source the music, and do any arranging and re-orchestrating I need to do. It also means that I can book the venue in advance.
I digress…Once the shortlist of items has been finalised, I need to see how much of the music is for the choir and how much for the orchestra. There needs to be a balance of choir “solos” and orchestral “solos”. As with any new project there is a certain amount of testing the water and so as more concerts get done, the content varies to feature more achievable music within the timeframe available. I don’t want to do endless rehearsals so there has to be a fine balance between challenges and “straightforward”.
I understand why some orchestras repeat items or themes (it’s less to learn) but I prefer to ring the changes. I like to choose new music for each concert, rather than bring out a piece we’ve done previously. However, there are exceptions to this self-imposed rule. Christmas is the main one…I’m never going to do a Christmas concert that doesn’t feature ‘Sleigh Ride’ or ‘A Christmas Festival’. Though it is highly likely I shall vary them in some way. There is a plethora of music from which to choose and I want to discover and share as much of it as I possibly can.