How to pull off a Concert in 6 Hours

This summer, I had the delightful experience of putting together a recital with some musical friends - some old and some new. A couple of people had the idea and reached out to others and myself to flesh the whole thing out. On August 6th, we put on a very lovely woodwind chamber recital, and we're aching to do another!

Our Program and Personnel

For the recital we performed the following:

  • Ligeti Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet
  • Dubois Petite Suite for Bassoon and Flute
  • Bachianas Brasileiras No. 6 for Flute and Bassoon
  • Taffanel Wind Quintet in G Minor

Our Personnel were:

  • Hilary Janysek, Flute
  • Catherine Miller-Wardle, Oboe
  • Jason Baker, Clarinet
  • James Ryan Morris, Bassoon
  • Sarah Wilkinson, French Horn

Here are the steps we took to pull off a great recital in a limited amount of time. The first steps listed are more on the Objective side of things - concrete and must-have items one should employ when doing something like this. The second set of steps are more from my perspective in what I learned from this process. Enjoy!

Objective Steps

1. Have a Prep Stage
So, ok, the title is a bit misleading because technically the total time of planning and executing this recital was over the course of nearly 3 months. The six hours mentioned in the title refer to the amount of sit-down rehearsal time the musicians put into it. Regardless, the prep time involved is very important:

  • Have your idea ahead of the time you intend to pull it off (about three months for us). 
  • Secure all the players you need, and get the music out to everyone. Ryan, our Bassoonist, reached out to all of us in May, but he had all the repertoire settled and the location and time were already set up for the first Saturday in August. Ryan made sure we all received our parts and were available for the date of the event.

2. Individual Preparation.
In the time between the initial plan and final execution, individuals must use the time to practice and get to know the pieces. The recital was set for May, and we were all able to use June and July to practice individually. 

3. Put all the parts together, quickly and efficiently.
This cannot be done if each individual does not know his or her own part. There can't be any weak links.

For the week of the concert:

We did 4 rehearsals. Three were evening rehearsals, and each were about 2 hours long. We ran what we could and wood-shedded parts that needed it. We set ourselves reasonable hours to work, 7-9pm, and didn't push past our time limit (people have lives/work/commitments on top of what we were doing, and we all respected that). 

Night one: all of the Taffanel, three movements of the Ligeti.

Night two: all of the Ligeti.

Night three (dress rehearsal): With some starting and stopping, mostly everything was run through or at least touched upon. What was not covered was hit the next day.

In the meantime, Ryan and Hilary worked on their own to get their duets up to snuff.

Day of the recital: The recital was at 2pm, we met at 12:30pm. We set up and ran things we felt needed one more check up. (Second movement of the Taffanel in entirety plus the beginning of the 3rd movement. Ligeti: the final movement as well as the Clarinet/Flute duo in movement 5)

Subjective Steps

1. Don't be the weak link.
Work on your own to know your part. It will fit into the puzzle best when your piece is clear and strong. If you don't know your music, you slow everyone else down. Don't waste the rehearsal time trying to figure something out in your part. Do that on your own time and don't hold everyone else up. Rehearsal time is for the group. Individual practice time is for you.

2. Have at least one person in the group who has done the material before.
This person can be the guide to help others through the piece, and he/she can act as the artistic director and leader of the ensemble. I had not performed the Ligeti or the Taffanel before, but Ryan had. Ryan was a great guide for our group and gave fantastic direction when we were lost in a sea of crazy time signatures and syncopated rhythms.

3. Cater your program and delegate your workload.
If you have people in the group that can handle more work - place it on them. You'll probably have a better end result that way than trying to make everyone pull more weight through the process. Two of the pieces in our recital were duets for Flute and Bassoon. Now, it's not that the other three in the woodwind quintet were not as strong as our Flute and Bassoon - on the contrary! Everyone was a stellar musician. However, I personally felt the relief of only having to prepare two pieces. I had just come off of a run of Les Miserables, and I was already kind of mentally spent walking into this recital effort. It was a relief to have some of the work delegated elsewhere. Our Flute player was on holiday from working on her Doctorate up at Ball State University and had a little more time on her hands to work on extra material. 

On the other hand, if you feel that you can take on more of the load - offer it to your fellow musicians. They may be appreciative of the relief in workload. Perhaps offer a piece you can play to give them a break during the concert. Or if you can't devote the extra practice time, offer to come early to set things up or bring bottles of water for everyone. Be a team player in these DIY concert events. Heck, be a team player in your regular music work as well. One guy I work with sometimes always brings water for all the wind musicians. Another brings a king-sized candy bar for everyone on opening nights if we're doing multiple shows. Classy! I love working with people like that.

Side note: we also realized we needed someone to make programs and program notes. I immediately suggested my husband, who is a walking-Wikipedia on Classical music. He was more than happy to do it, since he already writes program notes for a couple of ensembles in the area. This is another example of delegating the work out. 

4. Don't have an ego.
Humility is necessary when working on limited time. Someone may point something out to you that you need to know in your own playing. Accept it, add it to your playing and move on. Everyone in the group is listening for what will make the best performance. Don't be a drama queen and slow things down. (Drama always slows things down.)

5. Mistakes will happen, so let them be.
My husband and I talk often about the beauty of live music: since it's live and performed by flawed beings (we ain't robots), there are bound to be flubs and mental errors. This makes the event more humanizing, in our opinion. Of course, these become fewer the more mature you become in your playing, but it still happens. So when you're putting something together as quickly and efficiently as possible, there will be some mistakes that might just be out of your control - no matter how much you practice in your limited time. Let them be, and do not stress yourself out before the performance. If you are more relaxed about your general performance, chances are you will be able to fix a flubby spot better than if you are up-tight and tense about making things perfect. (Things won't be perfect anyways, but you can make them pretty darn good.)

6. Have multiple rehearsals. 
We set up three for ourselves, but after our dress rehearsal (the night before the recital), we still hadn't made it all the way through everything as a whole. We decided to meet a tad earlier the day of the recital to touch on what we couldn't hit in the dress rehearsal. Doing this helped everyone feel a bit more at ease. I promise, you can't pull off an effective concert or recital in just one rehearsal. You need to have the chance to run things multiple times on different days. 

Rehearsals are necessary because it gives the musician the chance to know how the musical task must and will be performed. Recently I had a church gig that doesn't do rehearsals (just show up and do the service). The man who hired me gave me a heads up for a transition between two pieces. Sounded simple enough, but when we got to that point in the service, I still ended up missing my entrance because I was not entirely clear on how the transition would go. I wasn't familiar with the piece we were transitioning into, nor did the conductor give the cue like I thought he would. One 5 minute run through would have solved that. I would have been able to hear what the piano was going to play, and I could've bounced off that music when the time came. (Side note to who hired me: not complaining at all, still had a great time playing at your church!)

***

So there you have it! Pull off a concert in six hours - it's totally possible! Have you ever put something together quickly or in a limited time frame? How did that go? Leave your stories and experiences in a comment!

All the photos were taken by our Clarinetist - Jason Baker.