Last Thursday evening Dick and Maggie and I did a little benefit performance for the 15th anniversary of the Arts Center in Orange. We played in the cleaned up clay studio for about fifty people who have made generous donations in the past and were being asked to donate again towards the goal of making building improvements so as to have more useable space for classes and small studios.
For me it was one of the most enjoyable performances ever, in that the set list was a mix of genres spread over the two hours. I've often thought that musical performances could be more like a multiple course meal with varying types of music to keep things fresh and interesting for the audience as the evening progresses, and this event allowed me to fully test that idea and see that it can work.
For about twenty minutes before the official start time of the reception I played keyboard things I've written for friends and students over the years. They're relatively easy to play and allow for a lot of interpretive latitude to match and lead the feeling in the room. I started very softly because so many people have had negative experiences with musicians playing too loudly. With each piece I turned up the volume the tiniest of increments, yet was always able to hear and understand conversations on the other side of the room. Once the event officially started I just went back and played them all again just a bit louder.
Next we played a few things arranged for trumpet, clarinet and alto flute - the medieval springtime carol Angelus Ad Virginem, and then a few of the short dances from Handel's Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks. Dick is a professional level trumpet player in dance bands and a great lover of Dixieland jazz, but can play with a marvelously quiet and sweet tone in chamber music and blended wonderfully with the clarinet and alto flute. Having him play softly at first was another part of the plan to acclimatize the audience to the presence of a trumpet that could play louder as the evening went on.
I then switched to guitar and we played Mrs. Madison's Minuet and a few of the other pieces of the James and Dolley Madison era we'd worked up earlier this year.
After that we played a number of things previously arranged for the full group that worked well for just the three of us. Here's a list of those titles:
Ain't She Sweet
All of Me
Deep River Blues (Doc Watson)
Georgia On My Mind
Hey, Good Lookin'
King of the Road
Let's Twist Again
Take Me Home, Country Roads
The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)
Yes Sir, That's My Baby
After that I went back to solo keyboard, playing the accompaniment to Mosaic, a piece for flute and piano written years ago. By itself it's a great piece of what I think Erik Satie meant by furniture music. That was intended to help wind down the evening, and then for a final piece I played the harmonized Dedication of Merit from Lama Tashi's Mantra Mountain CD.
Throughout the evening I had the feeling things were going very well, and that was validated by a very enthusiastic round of applause when we were thanked for our playing. The best thing, though, was the number of people who came up individually and told us how much they enjoyed the music in such an emphatic way. I don't think we've ever had so many people comment so enthusiastically and I think playing such a variety of music kept things fresh and interesting.
Because the program was designed for a specific event, it was similar to creating plans for music therapy sessions. Most music groups are one trick ponies entertaining with one genre for an entire event. Our goal was to generate and facilitate a convivial atmosphere to put people in the mood to donate - not to be the focus of the event.
My takeaway from this performance is that creating a program that's more like a menu for a nicely thought out meal than a simple list of pieces in a single genre can lead an audience to feel they're hearing something fresh and especially created for them.