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gazman

Playing To The Gallery

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As some of you will know, I give monthly organ concerts at one of my churches. It used to be weekly before a back injury (from which I've now fortunately recovered) made this difficult. I try to make these "tuneful", and try to balance the programme so that there's as much for the average listener to Radio Three as there is to the average listener of Classic FM (or even "The Organist Entertains"!), with the odd lollipop thrown in too!

 

We tend to get an audience of regulars, plus the occasional holiday-maker, and the church makes a bob or three.

 

This evening, for a change, we had an unashamedly popular programme which I called "Perkins Plays Pops". It was the sort of programme which most organists and "cultured" music lovers - I would have thought - would have winced at! BWV 565, Handel's "Largo", "Air on a G string", some Lefebure-Wely, etc. We publicized it as a popular programme, and received a very large audience indeed. The applause between items and at the end of the concert showed just how much it was enjoyed.

 

I had expected that the more "discerning" among the audience would have not enjoyed it so much as they might the regular recitals. But, apart from one who firstly said "What a load of old rubbish!" before saying "Actually, that was an incredibly enjoyable evening. Thank you.", I was inundated with compliments about the programme from the general concert-goer and from the local organists and from those whose tastes - I had previously assumed - were rather "high brow" who all described the programme in glowing terms. It was pretty obvious that an evening of ear-ticklers had delighted a whole audience, and I lost count of all the compliments.

 

It's got me thinking. I had numerous people say something along the lines that they enjoyed it so much (including those who had never previously attended an organ recital) that they're going to attend next month's recital. But they're going to expect the same sort of thing again! (incidentally, one of my regulars suggested playing the same programme each month to attract people back!). And I'm wondering whether I should go on playing my normal type of programme, or to play to the gallery and include the odd bit of "proper" organ music in order to "educate" people.

 

I think I have a choice of giving what we would perceive as a standard organ recital each month and getting a small audience, or entertaining them with the average Classic FM fayre (and, hopefully, interesting them in some of the organ's repertoire along the way) and getting a sizeable audience attending each month.

 

What would you do?

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It seems to me that many of the clergy believe that we have a duty to listen to a sermon whether it is interesting and well constructed or not. My own attention span seems to be limited. Some preachers manage to grab my attention and hold it, but they are rare and far between. We need to learn from this.

 

Organists fall into the same trap. Because they are wrapped up in the wonderful nature of the De Gringy or whatever that they are playing, and so pleased that they have managed to demonstrate the absolute perfection of the Tierce 1 1/3 on the choir, they forget that to the average listener this is sterile stuff. I think we all need to remember that, as solo performers, we are in the entertainment business. This doesn't mean that you cant try to educate and inform at the same time, but you need at all times to engage with the audience and hold their attention.

 

So I don't think there's anything wrong in programming pieces that you know will be popular. It may be a cop out only to programme such pieces, but that's a different matter. If you've got an audience present you can attempt to educate them and broaden their perspectives by introducing music that they're less familiar with. If all you've got are the organ anoraks its a lost cause.

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Keep doing whay you are doing and what Neil suggests - I sprinkle my pre and post service music ('don't do that many recitals) with standard and 'induldent' repertoire. They are just as likely to get Bach, Bonnet, Buxheimer etc. as Karl Jenkins,

Rachel Portman or Elena Kats Chernin!! (A quick 'Google' will fill in anyone who does not know of these latter).

 

AJJ

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Guest Patrick Coleman

Give them a bit of fun, but always keep them guessing - if it's always the same sort of stuff, then they'll get fed up it and your numbers will drop.

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After I did the Brownies evening I jokingly suggested that I had enough "popular" (ie film, TV themes &c) music to put on a programme called "A Night at the Movies". This was the running order for the Brownies evening:

 

The Pink Panther by Henry Mancini

Indiana Jones Theme by John Williams

James Bond Theme by Monty Norman

Thunderbirds Theme by Barry Gray

Dance Macabre by Camille Saint-Seans

 

I can see a case for maybe including one or two of these in a "serious" programme - probably items 2 and 4, and alerting the potential audience that there will be some lighter moments. The reason I included Danse Macabre was that unknown to me it formed part of the soundtrack for both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Jonothan Creek.

 

 

Peter

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As some of you will know, I give monthly organ concerts at one of my churches. It used to be weekly before a back injury (from which I've now fortunately recovered) made this difficult. I try to make these "tuneful", and try to balance the programme so that there's as much for the average listener to Radio Three as there is to the average listener of Classic FM (or even "The Organist Entertains"!), with the odd lollipop thrown in too!

Gareth, we have a lunchtime series at Christchurch Priory at 12.30pm on Thursdays, running from September to June. The performers are carefully 'encouraged' by Geoffrey Morgan to choose a varied and entertaining programme, usually including one Bach work and plenty of lightweight Hollins, Whitlock, transcribed lollipops etc. The result is an average audience of around 140 each week (or is that an average age...?) The more highbrow 'celebrity' summer evening series concerts draw fewer in comparison. Entry to the lunchtimes is free but there are collection plates in abundance, and inducements to have a Ploughman's lunch in Priory House etc. Geoffrey ensures a certain level of performance ability from the players (i.e. you'd get in, I wouldn't!) and the whole enterprise is flourishing.

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I would suggest that you gradually introduce them to Bach and go on from there. The audiences at the weekly recitals at Chester Cathedral are usually large, and there are never any "pops". Once your audience gets used to coming you'll educate them, I'm sure that's what's happened here. This year we've had a few pieces of Messiaen, always difficult for a general audience but at least they've heard it even if they've had their doubts - and they keep on coming. Maybe Chester is just lucky. I see that Christchurch only has summer recitals, I think they ought to experiment with continuing through the year, audiences might be smaller but they'll get in the habit of attending.

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Playing concerts in all sorts of places I have found that audiences in different places like different things. In general (even in Holland) few of us have organs on which either Buxheimer or de Gringy sound well enough to seduce anyone, so think about the strengths of the organ as well! Whatever you do, the most important thing is to do it really really well! Then you can persuade an audience of (perceived) non-organ lovers to appreciated more (perceived) high-brow music. The situation probably isn't as polarised as you think.

 

In Britain organising committees are masters of turning such concerts in real social occasions by feeding the public as well. In Holland nobody does this! If you bake some cakes and advertise the fact you can also build up a bigger public I think.

 

Last, and most important, widespread PR, as professional as possible, the more time, effort and imagination you put into the PR, the more reward you will get.

 

'nfortin' wrote "the absolute perfection of the Tierce 1 1/3 on the choir"

That must be a very special tierce indeed...... B)

 

 

Good luck and greetings

 

Bazuin

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Gareth, we have a lunchtime series at Christchurch Priory at 12.30pm on Thursdays, running from September to June. The performers are carefully 'encouraged' by Geoffrey Morgan to choose a varied and entertaining programme, usually including one Bach work and plenty of lightweight Hollins, Whitlock, transcribed lollipops etc. The result is an average audience of around 140 each week (or is that an average age...?) The more highbrow 'celebrity' summer evening series concerts draw fewer in comparison. Entry to the lunchtimes is free but there are collection plates in abundance, and inducements to have a Ploughman's lunch in Priory House etc. Geoffrey ensures a certain level of performance ability from the players (i.e. you'd get in, I wouldn't!) and the whole enterprise is flourishing.

 

As a contributor to the series; hear, hear. I did have one member of the public who told me to stick to organ music as transcriptions weren't very good or appropriate on that organ, but I can honestly say that I have had more direct compliments after recitals there than anywhere else. It's a question of making sure the programme is suitable to the audience and not being afraid to educate. I know some are a bit sniffy about the 'vetting' of programmes, but I think it is a very good idea, the organiser knows the audience (and I do always include some Bach!).

 

PS There is a summer and winter series.

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I would suggest that you gradually introduce them to Bach and go on from there. The audiences at the weekly recitals at Chester Cathedral are usually large, and there are never any "pops".

 

I think Bazuin's point about different audiences liking different things is very true. It may work in a city like Chester, but in sleepy south Devon there is just no way you are ever going to pack a church out with Messiaen. That said, it probably is possible to educate the audience bit by bit, but it's probably best done by drip feeding them so gradually they don't notice. I'm a fine one to pontificate, however, since I doubt I could ever hold my nose long enough to play a programme like this, but that's my problem. All power to Gareth's elbows for putting his audience first.

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I would suggest that you gradually introduce them to Bach and go on from there. The audiences at the weekly recitals at Chester Cathedral are usually large, and there are never any "pops". Once your audience gets used to coming you'll educate them, I'm sure that's what's happened here. This year we've had a few pieces of Messiaen, always difficult for a general audience but at least they've heard it even if they've had their doubts - and they keep on coming. Maybe Chester is just lucky. I see that Christchurch only has summer recitals, I think they ought to experiment with continuing through the year, audiences might be smaller but they'll get in the habit of attending.

 

 

======================

 

 

To my mind, there is only one true master of programme selection, and that is Francis Jackson.

 

As we all know, at the peak of his powers he was formidable almost beyond belief when on top form, and yet he always allowed himself the luxury of the "common touch."

 

So you would always hear fantastic Bach, and possibly one really big symphonic work such as the Healey Willan, or Vierne.

 

Balanced against that was music which tickled the ear and delighted the senses.

 

Over the years, I've heard him play things such as:-

 

Grand Choeur in D - Guilmant

 

Scherzo - Bossi

 

Scherzo - Gigout

 

Tuba Tune - Cocker

 

Lots of Whitlock (such lovely tunes)

 

(etc etc)

 

People would go away humming some of the melodies.

 

Then he could stun an audience with fluid virtuosity:-

 

Dupre - Noel Variations

 

Dupre - G Minor P & F

 

Two good examples, which always had people on the edge of their seats.

 

Above all, I always found a remarkable balance in his programming, which presented a combination of good melody, good rhythm, occasional outright virtuosity and often delightful good humour.

 

I don't care who went to one of his recitals in those heady years, they would leave thinking that they had heard something very special AND memorable.

 

There is no doubt that Guilmant, Whitlock and Gigout provided a treasure chest of delightful music between them, and yet nowadays, everyone is so poe-faced and serious all the time, and most organists will not touch Guilmant.

 

For anyone who wants to know how to grab an audience, forget about organ recitals. Instead, go to a top notch brass band concert, where you will usually hear that same juxtoposition of that which is lightweight and that which is serious. Judging by the numbers who attend, it is a formula for success.

 

MM

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In Britain organising committees are masters of turning such concerts in real social occasions by feeding the public as well. In Holland nobody does this!

 

 

==========================

 

 

I just got this vision in my head, of very polite Hollanders offering plates of cured herring, cold ham, hard boiled eggs, peaches and chunks of apple, Edam cheese, bread rolls, thin slices of cold, smoked bacon and small but perfectly formed boiled sausages....lovely!

 

I think the last time that I attended a summer recital at Haarlem, I stuffed my face with Italian ice-cream from the little kiosk attached to the church, grabbed a fresh coffee in the bar opposite, and stole a few of those little biscuits they put on the saucer.

 

I find that this is just enough to get through an hour's recital.

 

:)

 

MM

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The good ladies of Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon offered various freshly made sandwiches (eg cheese and (home-made) damson pickle) along with brownies and drinks before each of the 6 recitals held on Thursday lunchtimes. The last of the series was yesterday - maybe the rather delicious pickle is all used up....

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In Britain organising committees are masters of turning such concerts in real social occasions by feeding the public as well. In Holland nobody does this! If you bake some cakes and advertise the fact you can also build up a bigger public I think.

 

Dear Bazuin,

 

Almost nobody. Except in the "Grote Kerk" in Weesp, where you can enjoy a good glass of wine and some fine snacks after the recital. Try it, when you can! And, of course, in the Amsterdam Orgelpark. They have excellent wines, by the way!

 

Normally spoken, the best you can have in Holland is a (weak) cup of coffee after the recital. But there are also lot of places where you don't get anything before or after the concert. Even no spoken welcome! One enters the church, pays for his ticket, looks for a place to sit, waits for the "advance tone" of the organ(ist) and then gets about 70 minutes of music. And then, the organising committees are surprised "why there were so little people tonight".

 

"Presentation" and "hospitality" are no household words in most of the Dutch organ world, unfortunately!

 

G.S.

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Gerco and others

 

"Except in the "Grote Kerk" in Weesp, where you can enjoy a good glass of wine and some fine snacks after the recital. Try it, when you can!"

 

This is true! I had forgotten! The wine even has pictures of the organ on the bottles, (they sell it to raise money for the organ!). Apart from the wine, Weesp closely matches MM's imagined scenario.

 

"And, of course, in the Amsterdam Orgelpark. They have excellent wines, by the way!"

 

As Gerco knows, I am very aware of the situation in the Orgelpark, here the format is that of a (relatively) formal concert hall, with front-of-house with bar, and all employees wearing uniform. Its the 'ivory tower' of organ concert venues, but I think Holz Gedackt probably doesn't have the resources of the Stichting Eutopa at his disposal!

 

Greetings

 

Bazuin

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........but in sleepy south Devon there is just no way you are ever going to pack a church out with Messiaen.

 

 

I'm doing the Priere apres la Comnunion from Livre du Saint Sacrement soon; this is a pretty gentle introduction to Messiaen, and could serve as an introduction to his sterner stuff. With someone like Messiaen of course programme notes or a spoken introduction to the music can be of help in getting people to see what the composer is trying to say in his work.

 

 

Peter

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Oh indeed. A few years ago, when I was asked by a local church to give an organ recital of mainly meditative music one Good Friday, I did venture to play Le verbe from La Nativité, mainly because the slow section is such wonderfully sublime music in which to lose yourself completely. I gave the congregation some rather dubious verbiage on the "born to die" theme to get round the mismatch of seasons and waxed lyrical about the sumptous harmony and the freedom of the melody, floating like a bird on the wing, unfettered by the chains of a regular beat. Speaking to people afterwards, nobody objected to the modernism, but the comments I got were along the lines of "that melody was certainly a mystery tour, wasn't it?" Hmm... er.... yes. :)

 

I got away with it, but the comments were definitely polite and appreciative rather than enthusiastic. The comments about the more traditional fare were much warmer. Of course it's perfectly possible that my PR just wasn't good enough.

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The good ladies of Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon offered various freshly made sandwiches (eg cheese and (home-made) damson pickle) along with brownies and drinks before each of the 6 recitals held on Thursday lunchtimes. The last of the series was yesterday - maybe the rather delicious pickle is all used up....

 

 

=========================

 

 

Were they real Brownies?

 

:)

 

MM

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=========================

Were they real Brownies?

 

:)

 

MM

 

Virtually B) melted in the mouth...

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Thunderbirds Theme by Barry Gray

 

I heard this played brilliantly at St Paul's Newcastle-under-Lyme some years ago, and grinned with delight all the way through.

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I heard this played brilliantly at St Paul's Newcastle-under-Lyme some years ago, and grinned with delight all the way through.

 

Are you in contact with, or do you know, the person who played it? It would be interesting to compare arrangements and registratons &c!

 

Thanks

 

 

Peter

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Sorry Peter, (see PM). Research reveals that - if anyone else was interested - it was a sketched out and "made up as you go along" job.

And I still remember it!

Ah, well.

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