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28 Days to Diva: Day 5 – Plan a Recital (#28daystodiva)

February 5, 2013

Yesterday I tasked you with quite the challenge: to determine whether your ZIP code is helping or hindering your singing career. Depending on the answer, that could have pushed many of you to experience heart palpitations. Thankfully, today’s challenge can happen anywhere. Planning a recital, which is our Day 5 challenge, is a necessary exercise for musicians of all stripes. The rigorous attention to logistical and musical details makes planning a recital a superb learning experience.

Frederica von Stade photo by Liz Lauren

Nature of the Occasion

While you are in the brainstorming stage for your recital, imagine what type of recital you would like to present. Are you hoping for an extremely formal affair? Would you like to have it be more experimental? These types of questions will help you settle some logistical details. The date you choose to schedule will be determined by some of these details. If your recital is going to be an extravagant affair or you are thinking of programming truly difficult music, you will probably want to give yourself ample time to prepare.

Profile of the audience

It is extremely important to program the music that you love and perform superbly. However, it does not hurt to think about your potential audience. The truth is that you will probably know 90% of your audience if you are programming a hometown recital. Do not wait until the publicity stage to think about who you want to connect with. Start with the creative process now. Who will want to hear this work? Is there something else in your repertoire that goes hand in hand with this that your friends, family, coworkers, and their connections will want to hear?

“It is often humbling to learn of the efforts and sacrifices people make to attend concerts and recitals: they deserve the best we can give.” –  Stephen Cleobury


“The principles of constructing such a program are something like writing a play: you need a beginning, a good first half closer, and a trajectory through the second half that clinches the story. Using several singers rather than just a single artist, we are able to consider a wider range of songs for the program; and having more than one vocalist instantly creates a sense of drama. If you do them right, thematic recitals focus the audience’s attention where it belongs — on the words and music at hand, rather than on the diva’s dress, or on comparisons with past performances. The rapt concentration of the audiences, their willingness to take a musical journey into parts unknown and their discovery that songs can teach you about history and expand your horizons have vindicated my original belief: people have an intrinsic need to be sung to, and song recitals should address that need as directly as possible.” – Steven Blier

Mr. Blier certainly knows his stuff when it comes to constructing an art song recital. After all, he is the Artistic Director of the New York Festival of Song (NYFOS), which he co-founded in 1988 with Michael Barrett. In the quote above he makes a strong case for structuring a recital like a play or even with a narrative concept. If you skim this paragraph, just remember this: please dear God, no more greatest-hits-in-chronological-order recitals! Please. Your audience truly wants to be transported through the music you have chosen. Use all of those creative skills you have been honing for years to make a statement (that statement doesn’t always have to be serious, though.) Pick a topic that you are passionate about and comb your repertoire list as well as catalogs for musical works that tell the story. (Shout out to Karen Mercedes on New Forum for Classical Singers. If you are lost when it comes to rep, she can find you anything!)

Play around with the order of your program and see if it works in the order you have designed. Be sure to check for any weird key relationships – especially if you are moving from piece to piece without applause. Also, decide if there are any parts of your program in which you will want to “talk from the stage” to give the audience any information you may not have put in the program notes. Plan your text ahead of time and become comfortable reciting it in a free and natural way. You would be surprised how hard this can be in performance. That brings me to translations and program notes. Providing these little cues for the audience can be invaluable; not to mention, a very good access point for those audience members who are not as familiar with classical voice repertoire. You should definitely include: the title of each work and all movements, composer name, year it was completed or composer’s birth and death dates, and translation. You may want to add a few sentences about the piece in case there are notes about cultural context or composer facts. Another good tip to remember: keep a rep list with durations on hand so that you can estimate the length of your recital.

“I am glad to see that the old-style graduate-school recital (Handel-Schubert— opera aria-contemporary piece— Faure-“charming” ender) is less in evidence
than it used to be.”– Steven Blier

Wow, that is just the beginning when it comes to planning a recital! Spend some time on this part of the creative process for today’s challenge. We will go on into details about venue, publicizing, and the recital itself in later challenges for 28 Days to Diva. Brainstorming at the outset about the type of recital you want to perform, who will be in attendance, and what exactly you will sing will make the road to recital that much smoother. Planning your own recital is one of the many ways of putting yourself out there and making your own opportunities. An art song recital can be a profoundly moving experience. Wouldn’t it feel wonderful to just revel in that experience because you prepared so well? I would think so.

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