Image of interior of concert hall“Programs are a bit like prix-fixe menus in a restaurant: We can’t serve music à la carte . . . so our menu has to be quite diverse and – tasty.”
-Eckart Preu, conductor (The Musician’s Way, p. 212)

Musicians who can transfix audiences succeed because of more than their artistry and charisma.

Spellbinding concerts result from the combined effect of the performers, venue, and the focus of this post – programming.

Here are 7 guidelines to help rising musicians craft winning concert programs.

1. Know Your Audience
Just as different foods suit different age groups, settings, and times of day, programs should be tailored to specific occasions. For an audience of aficionados, let’s say, you could include experimental titles. But for listeners who aren’t familiar with your style, it’s usually best to stick with approachable music and mix in entertaining spoken program notes.

2. Choose Music You Can Handle
Opt for accessible repertoire that allows you to express yourself freely and build confidence. Never program music that outstrips your technical ability.

3. Begin with Welcoming Music
Like hors d’ouevres before a banquet, your opening selection whets listeners’ appetites. Start with straightforward music that introduces an audience to your sound and enables you to settle in.

4. Vary the Energy
Similar to how multicourse meals incorporate dishes that build on one another, concert programs need emotional contrast and trajectory. For instance, with a 2-part recital, you might increase energy toward the intermission and then ascend to even greater heights in the 2nd half.

5. Indulge and Surprise
When people attend concerts, they bring expectations with them, which are influenced by your marketing strategies. Memorable concerts, though, take audiences beyond what they can envision. So, create expectations, and surpass them.

6. End Strongly
Conclude most programs with high-voltage impact, placing your most intense selection last. Then, when appropriate, offer up dessert-like encores.

7. Evaluate
Use self-reflection and feedback from others to advance your programming skills and refine your creative process. Weigh audience reactions, review your concert videos, consult colleagues and mentors, and regularly sketch ideas.

All of these tips are fleshed out in Chapter 11 of The Musician’s Way where you’ll also find three sample programs.

Related posts
Let’s Get Relevant
Partnering with Non-Profits
Preparing for Portfolio Careers
Programs that Pop 
Self-Evaluation: The Key to Artful Practice

© 2012 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © michaeljung, licensed from

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