Putting on a successful concert means taking care of a lot of details. Obviously, preparing the music is most important (and comes with its own processes and challenges). Nevertheless, sometimes the logistics feel like the hard part. You have to enforce a dress code, make sure that students arrive on time, setup and manage the facility, and more. What you don’t have time to do is to print a concert program.
Programs are worth the time and effort. A concert program demonstrates to students that a performance is an important formal event to be respected. They’re part of the culture and ritual of concerts and parents will expect them. They also offer families a tangible keepsake to include in a scrapbook or memory box.
Programs have benefits for you as well. Looking for a short holiday piece for beginners to round out a concert? Look at what you programmed in years past. Obviously, repertoire selection requires more than just recycling old pieces, but with the passage of enough time including a classic title can be useful. Being able to reference old programs tells you exactly what was played.
What Goes in a Concert Program?
A great concert program includes:
- A title page with information about the concert setting
- A list of the pieces being played, along with their composers and arrangers
- A list of the members of the ensemble(s)
Including a title page identifies the concert and improves the program design. Including a simple graphic can help identify the theme of the event (for a holiday concert, for example). Be sure to include a time, date, and location. Finally, give your concert a title. “Metroville High School Winter Concert” is fine — this doesn’t have to be rocket science.
The bulk of the program should tell the audience what they’re about to hear. That means including the titles of each selection, the composers (and arrangers if applicable) and which ensemble is performing. In my experience, there are almost always multiple ensembles performing at a school concert, and the audience wants to know who is playing what. If there will be an intermission or changes to the staging, include those in the program as well. Avoid the temptation to make this information pretty rather than functional.
Listing the performers offers a personal touch — Grandma loves seeing little Johnny’s name in the program. Some programs leave this out, but I think it’s important and always include it. In the interest of time and effort, I don’t recommend sorting the students by instrument. An alphabetical list of ensemble members is enough. I recommend copying and pasting from your official class roster to be sure that you don’t misspell anyone’s name or leave anyone out.
Somewhere in the program, be sure to acknowledge and thank the school administration, staff, parents, any booster groups that support your ensemble, and the entire music faculty. Of course, you (or your MC) will do this out loud at the concert as well, but thanking people twice never hurts.
Creating With Style
Working from a style guide ensures consistency and a professional look. Here are some style guidelines that have worked for me:
- Italicize the song title, but not the composer
- Include movement titles, even if you’re only playing one movement
- Indent movement titles
- Optional: The year a piece was composed and the years of the composer’s birth/death
Making a Program Quickly
The biggest time-saving technique when creating a concert program is using a template. We’ve built one especially for holiday concerts you can use in Word. Enter your email address below to download it for free.
This template incorporates other time-saving ideas as well. It prints on a single 8.5”x11” sheet of paper (though you’ll need to be sure to set it up to print double-sided). By printing on one page, you don’t need to staple anything. Because it’s a standard size, you won’t have to scrounge around for a particular type of paper in the copy room.
All that’s required after printing is to fold the page in half. You can do this yourself (perhaps with a glass of wine) the night before or have every student fold two programs in class the day of the concert. It’s a piece of bell work (or an exit slip) that takes less than a minute. If a student creates origami or airplanes instead of a properly folded program, explain that you’ll be sure to make sure to save the airplane program for that student’s parents so they can appreciate their student’s work.
Going the Extra Mile
The programs I’ve described so far are very simple, cheap and quick to produce. Often, that’s exactly what ensemble directors need. If you want to take things to another level, here are some ideas to try:
- Use high-quality paper to improve the look and feel of the program. Test anything glossy ahead of time to make sure that it’s still legible.
- List students by instrument and include soloists or principal players where applicable.
- Include program notes for the repertoire. Many directors leave these out of the program and have the MC describe the piece before it’s played.
- Put your design skills to the test by making the cover graphic more intricate.
To really go the extra mile, try selling advertising spots in your program to local business. This isn’t something I have experience with – I was always out to make programs as quickly as possible – but it can end up being a great way to fundraise and make community connections. Often you already know some parents who own their own businesses and might be willing to advertise. Connecting with your local music store is a great option too.
Whether you keep it simple or build a professionally-designed program, I wish you the best of luck on your concerts this year!