The June/July issue of Choral Journal is now available online! The Rehearsal Break column features an article written by Emily Ellsworth titled “Concert Programs as Storytelling.” Below is an excerpt of the article, and you can read it in its entirety in the June/July 2019 issue! Go to acda.org/choraljournal and click “Search Archives.” Choose June/July 2019 from the dropdown menu.
It is clear to me as a conductor and audience member that we are living in a more visual society and one with a shorter attention span than in years past. We may bemoan these developments, brought on by our screen-focused lives, increasingly digital communication, and expectation for immediate answers.
But the nature of our contemporary culture is unlikely to change in the near future. Each of us may choose to calm our own response to this fast-paced world through meditation, greater self-care, and learning to say “no” more often. However, our students and audiences are products of our culture, for good and ill. Over the last twenty years of creating programs for Anima (Glen Ellyn Children’s Chorus) outside of Chicago, I found our programming most successful when we took these cultural characteristics into account, rather than fighting them.
This article offers ways of expanding our programming toolbox. Hopefully, choruses that stand still on risers and sing with great intention and musicality will always have an honored place in our work. Yet by creating thematic flow in our programs and creatively making use of concert spaces and visual elements, we can more fully engage our audiences’ senses, brains, and hearts. With the assumption that we must do everything we can to best serve the composers and poets of our repertoire, our final responsibility is to the audience members who gift us with their time and attention.
As Henry David Thoreau so aptly wrote in Walden Pond, “To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.” Conductors think a lot about impacting the quality of students’ days through our teaching and mentoring, and the music we choose. But our concerts can more fully extend this care to our audience members as well.
From Recital to Concert Experience
Student recitals are a familiar idiom, showcasing the individual progress of each performer. A recital often proceeds from least experienced to most experienced student, with applause following every piece. The only intentional fl ow is that of chronology of age and experience.
Sometimes choral concerts make use of this “recital” approach, particularly when several ensembles are involved. The program might move from youngest to oldest, allowing applause after each octavo, and ending with a combined piece for all ensembles. Furthermore, many community youth and school choral organizations enjoy “built-in” audiences of family members.
But what if that weren’t a given, and we had to coax greater audience numbers by way of creative programming, as do professional choruses? What if we sought to give our audiences an experience that went beyond feeling pride for their singers’ participation? The result, in my and many others’ experience, can be a transformative experience for singers, conductor, and audience.
Read the rest of this article (and more!) in the June/July issue of Choral Journal, available online at acda.org.