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Should I talk during the concert?

I was curious how other directors out their presented information about the musical selections at their concerts. Do you talk? Do you have kids introduce the pieces and talk? A separate speaker who serves as an emcee of sorts? Do you use program notes and completely forego any talking? As of right now, I give a short blurb about the music in between every other piece. I'm not sure I like doing it that way, so I'm considering changing that.

Thanks in advance for the feedback!
Blake Long
Rosalia, KS

Replies (23): Threaded | Chronological
on October 24, 2015 3:58pm
It's done both ways. A few years ago I started noticing, both as a director and as part of an audience, that the audience became inattentive during the speaking parts. I noticed also that when I spoke my programs took much longer than I had planned. I've seen choirs use student speakers with short scripts. By the time the speaker comes forward, adjusts the mic, speaks, and returns to place, 3 minutes have passed. A lot of music runs about 3 minutes.
Then I saw a local high school perform 14 pieces in 45 minutes, including changing groups on the risers. She did no speaking except the "we're-glad-you're here" welcome, and the "thanks-for-coming" closing. Everything was on program notes, and there was no dead time between choirs. During the changes, there were audience sing-alongs. The students were in place by the end of the song. I was inspired! Since then I have abandoned speaking, except for the welcome and goodnight.
I am an elementary music teacher. I have a choir of 50 and another of 120, plus ensembles. I play one piece of upbeat recorded music between the choirs. The audience is invited to stand, stretch, visit during that time. By the time the song is over, the risers are adjusted, the singers have moved in/out, and the audience has had a break. My programs typically have 12-14 selections, and last no more than 45 minutes. I'm firmly entrenched in the no talking camp.
Applauded by an audience of 4
on October 25, 2015 3:58am
My personal preference is to do as little talking as possible.  I like the focus to be on the kids.  That's who my parents are there to see...and let's face it, once teachers start talking, it's often times not easy to get us to wrap it up!  :-)
Sometimes, you have to, though.  Just keep it short and congenial.
Using students is often a good idea too.  
Dale Duncan
Creator of S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Program for Beginners
on October 25, 2015 5:10am
As Susan wisely notes, it depends on how it is done.  
The key is to keep the audience engaged.  Questions (as in "Raise your hand if you have ever heard of Scott Joplin" or "True or false: it is helpful to be nervous." " if you were feeling_____, what kind of song would you write?" are good tools.  I have noticed local [basically-classic] radio stations doing this.
I write my little intro-speeches ahead, even though I am comfy with improvisation.  It keeps me from rambling.  Keep them to 2 or 3 short, easy-to-follow sentences.  Maybe a bit of a poem, or famous quote.Get a good English teacher to check for run-on sentences, unclear phrases, etc.
We must all ask ourselves: Are our speaking voices clear, open, and lively?  Do we employ the same techniques to our speaking as we do for our singing?  Does a joke trip expertly from our tongue, or fall flat before the stage edge? if not, let a well-spoken student do it.  A theatre student will welcome this experience. Varying your student-introducers will keep the concert interesting, but have them rehearse!  Go out front and listen; can they be understood?  This may seem time-consuming, but you may be giving the first opportunity to the next pastor or POTUS.
Sometimes a short skit will do it -just bring 2 or 3 characters forward for 2 to 5 short lines.  Our collegues in theatre, ministry, etc. will reinforce that it is more engaging and effective to show, rather then tell.
i have a 10-yr old piano student.  He was preparing "Shining Stars" for the recital.  He aksed if we could dim the lights for effect.  We did so, and pulled up the chandelier lights; a memorable performance, and effective. Though he is focused in science and technology, he has an impressive artistic side.  
Students will sometimes have good artistic presentation ideas.
I truly love the sing-a-long idea.  This will unify, educate, and they will look forward to returning.
To best effects,
on October 25, 2015 7:01am
I'm also a big fan of "as little talking as possible". I sang with a director who talked A LOT, and it was frequently painful for audience members and those of us on stage.
Personally, I enjoy writing program notes, and I believe that they're a good idea because:
1. It's an efficient way of getting out that info; often, people (especially parents) arrive early, so this gives them something worthwhile to do. 
2. It forces you (or students, if you have them write) to go deep on the music, learning about the composers, lyricists, meaning, and historical context.)
3. It gives you something to put in your profesional portfolio.
I am also a big advocate of good flow in performances. A theme can help with this, too. Too much talking breaks up the flow, and it takes the audience away from the potentially transcendent experience that we're creating for them. As much as possible, I like to go from one piece to the next without applause, too; having a theme, having some meaningful movement on stage, inserting readings from the students, having a wordless vocal transition (like the late Larry Fleming with the Mational Lutheran Choir), or pairing songs in the same key can achieve this. If you've ever seen The Rose Ensemble or Conspirare, you've witnessed the power of this kind of seamless performance.
I have to say that I am not in favor of playing music in between songs or groups, for several reasons:
1. We are already a distracted society. We train our audiences, so let's not train them to need to be entertained every minute.
2. TIme in between songs/groups can be good times for people to talk and build community.
3. Playing pre-recorded music from other musicians de-values our own musicians on stage--and, quite frankly, do we want to play recordings from professional musicians, who are probably better than our students?
Think about professional concerts that you attend--symphony orchestras, chamber ensembles--how often do they talk? Exactly...generally, not much. If we are training our young musicians to be professionals, let's model that behavior.
As much as feasible, have the students introduce songs. It's good publi-speaking practice for them, it prompts them to do a little research, and it's empowering for them.
Applauded by an audience of 3
on October 25, 2015 5:12pm
I get what you're saying, Eric, and in many settings I'd agree whole-heartedly. If I taught at the secondary level, I probably wouldn't use recorded music. Poetry reading and sing-alongs would be my choice. 
However, I teach at an elementary school. When 500+ children are jammed into the gym and sitting on the floor, they really need to get up and move at some point. The riser set change is the perfect time. With one piece of kid-popular music playing ("Happy," "Frosty, the Snowman"), they can stand, talk, dance and generally get the fidgets worked out. Also, the riser crew seems to work faster with the music playing, and the kids in the choir get into their places faster. When the music stops, the children sit and resume their audience behavior, and the kids on the risers return to performance mode. It used to take eight minutes to get the risers done and everyone refocused. Now it takes the length of one song, usually less than three minutes.
For evening performances, we have actual seating for the families. Keep in mind that families of elementary students have a lot of preschoolers, who also need a break. Before I began the music break, I used to have little ones running all over the place, sometimes even into the performance area to see their brothers and sisters. We all know that the parents are "supposed" to manage their children, but the reality is that the kids were loose. I don't have that issue anymore.
I'm teaching all of the children audience manners, and choir kids how to stand and watch the director from risers. That's about as much as I can do with logistics. I leave it to the saintly middle school directors to take it from there. 
Applauded by an audience of 1
on October 26, 2015 9:05am
Hope this didn't come across as grumpy or defensive. I was just trying to give some perspective on the elementary setting.
on October 25, 2015 9:21am
I like to talk to the audience during concerts.  BUT, I make sure of these things:
1) Whatever I say has to be quick, to the point, and (occasionally) funny.
2) Whatever I say has to help the listenersto better grasp the music--something important about the story of the piece, for example, or some key musical moment they can listen for.
I generally write out the remarks, then practice them so they feel natural and flow easily.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on October 25, 2015 9:46am
If your talking involves recognizing your students, then talk away. If you really think the audience will enjoy what you're about to perform more if you explain it, plan what you'll say carefully. If the booster group is doing a 50/50 raffle at the concert, you're going to have to talk about that!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on October 25, 2015 10:03am
We used a different approach in our Christmas concerts. I had a large collection of Christmas poems and we would select a short poem that related to the spirit of each song about to be performed. Individual students would step up to the podium and read the poem and then we would perform the song. Prior to the concert, students auditioned for the readings and then practiced reciting the poems in a dramatic and entertaining manner. Our drama teacher even helped coach them. The result was very pleasing and added a new dimension to our Christmas concerts. The key to success would be, of course, to keep the poems short and entertaining.
on October 25, 2015 10:03am
We used a different approach in our Christmas concerts. I had a large collection of Christmas poems and we would select a short poem that related to the spirit of each song about to be performed. Individual students would step up to the podium and read the poem and then we would perform the song. Prior to the concert, students auditioned for the readings and then practiced reciting the poems in a dramatic and entertaining manner. Our drama teacher even helped coach them. The result was very pleasing and added a new dimension to our Christmas concerts. The key to success would be, of course, to keep the poems short and entertaining.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on October 25, 2015 11:02am
As a school concert audience member and singer, I enjoy both good program notes AND occasional introductions by the teacher/director.
However, IF the director's verbiage is taking the place of notes rather than supplementing or humanizing them, it's a different story. When introductions are impersonal, formal, or mechanical, I find that they detract rather than add. 
On the other hand, if the director is comfortable, warm, generous, and engaging (humorous when appropriate), introductions/comments can add to the audience's positive experience. 
on October 25, 2015 12:05pm
When I conducted my college chorus, I began introducing each piece with a short summary of the composer's background, something to listen for in the piece, or something (i hope) amusing. I had audience members often tell me that they enjoyed the concert mch more hearing about the works, not just reading about them. In fact, when my chorus made a recording, the dean of the college offered assistance with the expenses as long as my introductions to each piece were recorded as well. Later, with my community chorus, I continued the same practice. That group was predominantly older, and even though it slightly increased the time they were on stage, it also gave them some extra recovery time between selections. I was flattered that even though I tried to get someone from the chorus to do the introductions, I was usually told, "We like hearing you do it."
Jim Davis
on October 25, 2015 6:36pm
Talking gets a bad rep by conductors who ramble on with useless facts and concepts that blow over the audience's head.  Try and find a comfort in letting your talking points shift to whatever is going on in the concert, and in your head, and in your heart.  Most conductors rehearse what they're going to say, and search so hard for the golden nuggets of wisdom they hope to impart to their listeners, with no real guarantees and often a glazing effect..  I say be contstantly feeling the audience out, so you know when it's time to skip over a long eloquent back story to a song, when it's time to unveil a good testimony from the classroom in the process leading you to this performance, and when it's time to address the sweat on your brow and tell the audience you shouldn't have eaten that six-pack-and-a-pound from taco johns on your way to the concert.  You can get people rolling on the floor and in the palm of your hand by plucking pieces of reality out of the moment and sharing them with the audience.  One time I stopped the choir after four bars of sicut cervus, because the weaving lines of polyphony suddenly made me think of how dolphins swim in groups, all together but choosing to dive, jump, speed ahead, and turn, at independent times.  The audience and choir got a huge kick out of it, and the choir sang a personal best.  I am all for the moment over rehearsed speech.  You never get those moments back. 
on October 26, 2015 8:01am
Years ago I stopped going to the concerts of one particular local group because i knew that a virtual plethora of notes historical, interpretive, and otherwise, would precede every selection...thereby lengthening the program by a good half hour. He was a s-l-o-w speaker. If you have something to say make it a sentence or two -- nothing more. The audience will love you for it.  A short blurb is too long.  All that said -- of course there are extra-ordinary works that warrant a more lengthy explanation.  BTW, the local group I mentioned stopped using a "presenter" a while back.  It seems that people were complaining!  Now, from time to time, the conductor will say something.  Still too much, but it's better.  
Applauded by an audience of 1
on October 26, 2015 2:06pm
Agree with Thomas.  A short blurb is too long.  It's astonishing watching performances on youtube where the conductor rambles on and on - I'm sure they think it's a "short blurb". 
Applauded by an audience of 1
on October 26, 2015 4:35pm
Speaking as a typical audience member rather than a director, I much prefer no talking except a brief pro forma comment at the beginning and/or end.  Anything that really needs to be said about the music or group can be put in a performance note, which anyway gives the audience something to read while they are waiting for the start.
Applauded by an audience of 2
on October 26, 2015 9:10pm
Jon, do you feel that same way when you go to a K-12 concert? 
on October 27, 2015 8:06am
I haven't been to a concert like that for a very long time, and I assume I'd feel the same way -- if the point is that K-12 concerts are sometimes educational programs which incorporate teaching then I can see the justification.  But I don't really object to any talking and am not trying to persuade people to follow any rules, I just thought I'd express my personal feeling as a typical audience member in response to the question.  For me, one of the most important parts of a concert is the silence between the musics. (I know that may sound eccentric, but it's like some conversations which most of us have experienced where the pauses are as important as what's said.)
Applauded by an audience of 1
on October 27, 2015 11:06pm
I think it's helpful to decide what is the purpose of talking at a performance as compared to the purpose of program notes. I agree with those who suggested program notes remain in the program. But if your talking can help make a connection with the audience, I think it can be a positive thing. Keep things relaxed, help cover necessary movement, build a sense of togetherness, shared experience, community. That's something program notes can't acheive. 
Applauded by an audience of 1
on October 28, 2015 6:21am
I just had my first choir concert ever last night! I chose to speak briefly between each piece (but not before each choir's first piece). I wrote a script, which may have come across as a bit mechanical, but it definitely kept me from talking too long. I spoke about program notes as well as announcements about music parents, refreshments, future events, etc. as well as the usual welcome/thank you.
i think next time I'll keep the program notes to a written insert. I felt like I couldn't say all that I wanted to say, and as clearly as I wanted to say it. For welcome/thank you, and (short) announcments, I think I'll continue to do the public address.
on October 28, 2015 12:58pm
Talking is lovely if it enhances the musical experience; useless if it doesn't. Watch Benjamin Zander's Ted Talk:

And read Eric Booth's book:
These resources will launch you on a path of discovering how words can help deepen the audience's experience. I always try to put as much effort into what I say at the concert as I do into what I sing and play at the concert. It's obvious if you present music that you've poured over and rehearsed and then juxtapose it with speech that was cobbled together. This isn't to say that improvisation doesn't play a role, but you have to realize that the best improvisers practice improvisation for hours. I'm a big fan of using non-musical tools (talking, movement, visuals, etc.) to draw audiences deeper into the music. Study, and do it well!
on October 29, 2015 5:49am
I have adopted the "Concert preview" concept, with one major difference,  the chorale is present during the preview, usually 20 mintues long, by singing
only small numbers of significant sections of several pieces.  Our audiences are in full attendance at the preview and the comments that we receive
are always very positive.  I do not use pre-recorded music, only live singing and the chorale sits among the audience.
This was especially true when we presented Sicut Cervus and Cloudburst in our last performance.  The audience is always engaged.
I usually do not speak during the performance. 
on November 4, 2015 9:22pm
Thank you all so much for the feedback! It definitely gives me some ideas. Thanks again!
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