The Art of Programming Part I. Machine Guns and Sniper Rifles.

Last Friday's article sparked some discussion. I am pleased with this. Most pleased indeed. *strokes hairless cat*

There a lot of good points made, and I wanted to incorporate some to create a more nuanced art of programming, as well as address one comment in particular. For those who are not classical music aficionados, 'programming' is the word we use for "selecting pieces for a concert." Usually the discussion ends there. "Did you select pieces for your flatulaphone recital? Yes? Done." More discerning people will ask something like, "Did you select pieces in more than one key? No, every piece is in 'The Brown Note' minor. Please change the program, for the love of..." Very rarely will someone enter the world asking the truly pertinent question. "What the heck is a flatulaphone?"

Clearly, we're missing something in our discussion of programming. But before I elaborate, I wanted to rebut (he heh... but...) a comment made by one of my friends. Perhaps rebut (pfpfpfff....) is not the right word. But (OMG) anyways. The comment is paraphrased as such: "The reason programming is not discussed more often is because it is such a personal issue." The implication seeming to be either, 1. It's so personal there's no use talking about it at all (which I do not think was the intent of the comment) or 2. It's so personal it is very difficult to make generalizations about the art, and so people just avoid it rather than deal with it.

I think the second point is actually the more relevant issue. The first one is easily dismissed: music and interpretation are, after all, highly personal arts, yet we talk about them all the time. They are arts we are much more comfortable discussing, though, and given the human tendency to avoid looking like an idiot at all costs, well... We'd rather maintain silence than remove all doubt. Nevertheless! If we're going to make progress at all, somebody is going to have to look dumb, and it might as well be me. So here I go!

Goal Setting

In my experience, I have never really heard this come up in the realm of classical music. It is likely because goal setting is more what those stuck up business people do. Well, guess what, people... Music is a business. Get over it. To get better, to compete, we have to realize what we are aiming for. And no, "being a financially solvent institution" does not count as a goal. That is called "a given."

As far as I can tell, there are two goals which are necessary. The first is audience acquisition, the second is audience retention. Which goal you are concerned with will change how you approach your programming.

Machine Guns vs. Sniper Rifles

There are also two extremes with which we can approach organizing a program. On one end, we have the classical kitchen buffet. You have a concert filled with pieces by different composers from different time periods, and it's all over the place. The advantages this type of organization can give you is you're much more likely to hit something somebody likes. It won't be everybody at the same time, but in general, it's hard to miss. Accuracy by volume, as it were.

The other extreme is to have a single work fill up the entire concert. Something like a Mahler symphony. The advantage here is the audience knows what they are getting and they are almost certainly going to be blown away by the awesomeness of the awesome music they want to hear. BOOM! Headshot!

Disadvantages of the Machine Gun approach are: not as much power, not as much accuracy, much more difficult to organize into a meaningful whole. Disadvantages of the Sniper Rifle include: a (potentially) more narrow target, often asks a great deal of the audience.

To my knowledge, there are a handful of large works that operate well under both methods. This hat-trick category include pieces like Britten's War Requiem, or Orff's Carmina Burana. They are large works which take up an entire concert, but are divided into a series of smaller chunks which provide the variety of the first method. It is not surprising that pieces such as these tend to fill up seats really well. The DSO was nearly sold out for Carmina Burana recently, and WAS sold out for Britten' War Requiem.

Ok, so a basic ground work has been laid. We have some goals. We have a metric to judge program structure. We have a flatulaphone. Now what is our flatulaphonist to do? You'll have to wait and find out! Join me next time when I discuss types of music you might want to program!