It’s the middle of February 2021 as I write this, and the pandemic has been devastating most people’s lives for nearly a year now. Besides seeing major upheavals in the way people do business and the way education is conducted, we are also in the early stages of a seismic upset in the performing arts.
In this article, I will specifically address concert bands, but these upsets apply to all the performing arts, including theater, opera, dance, and music of all kinds from football game halftime shows to junior high band concerts to orchestra concerts to rock band concerts and pretty any other type of live music you can imagine.
The impacts are felt in education – by students and teachers and people intending to learn music as a career; in rehearsals – with most rehearsal venues being shut down; in concerts – with most venues being either shut down or highly restrictive; and with audiences – many of whom are now afraid to go out in public in a crowd.
SO WHAT CAN WE WHO LOVE OUR MUSIC DO ABOUT IT?
Since no one knows when or how this pandemic will end, we need to REINVENT OUR CONCERT BANDS.
I’m going to outline a possible reinvention course here that might also be usable by other performing arts groups.
REINVENTING CONCERT BANDS
One possible way to reinvent concert bands is to begin redirecting our efforts to what I like to call Outreach Ensembles, performing Outreach Concert Gigs.
WHAT These Are: Outreach ensembles are smaller ensembles, usually between 5 and 12 people, but possibly as large as 20 to 25 people.
These Outreach Ensembles can much more easily play Outreach Concert Gigs, which can easily be done in retirement homes, nursing homes, hospitals, hospice facilities, libraries, and at corporate or organizational functions where they want to have live music.
Making Outreach Ensembles and Gigs Work
To make this reinvention work smoothly requires a team, probably of six people or more, with the enthusiasm and determination to see their band continue and thrive during these pandemic times.
1. First, you need music.
To sound good with such a reduced instrumentation, you need music specifically arranged for reduced-instrumentation bands. There are a number of “Flex Band” arrangements available through current distributors such as JWPepper or Editions Marc Reift, or you can purchase books of such arrangements from the Salvation Army or Silver Clef Music’s Ensemble Concert Book series.
There are also some standard band arrangements that sound good even with reduced instrumentation, but you’ll have to experiment to find out which ones those are.
Along with this new music, you’ll need a music librarian to work with the music director to prepare folders for each player with the proper tunes.
2. Second, you need an Outreach Ensemble Personnel Coordinator
This is the person who keeps the roster of your entire band, and who buttonholes the players to commit to play on each gig, to come to both the rehearsals and the gig itself.
Since these ensembles are smaller than a typical concert band, every member cannot play every performance, but there should be enough gigs that everyone who wants to play will have the opportunity.
This OEPC would be responsible for letting the proper players know when and where to come to the rehearsals, and when and where to show up for the gigs.
3. Next, you need a GIG COORDINATOR
The Gig Coordinator is responsible for FINDING the gigs, for arranging the events at which the OE will play, booking the date, the time, and the venue, and making sure all the venue details are ironed out.
The gig coordinator will make sure the venue has adequate parking for the players, and will arrange for any considerations for the band and/or the players. For example, will there be any gratuity or honorarium paid to the band? Will the players be provided with any refreshments, or a meal? Will there be adequate lighting in the venue? Will there be electricity available if needed?
The Gig Coordinator also makes sure any required equipment, such as music stands, stand lights, and percussion equipment, makes it to the venue and is removed afterwards. (Probably need a team of helpers for this.)
The gig coordinator will work with the personnel coordinator to ensure the players know about parking, dates, times, etc.
4. Next, you need a REHEARSAL COORDINATOR
The Rehearsal Coordinator works with the Music Director and Gig Coordinator to book a rehearsal venue for the rehearsals for each gig, including the venue location, date, and time.
The rehearsal coordinator will also make sure the rehearsal venue has sufficient equipment as needed, such as music stands, lighting, percussion equipment, and heating or cooling.
5. Next, you need a MUSIC DIRECTOR
The Music Director is responsible for selecting the music, working with the music librarian and the unit treasurer to make sure you HAVE the music, and that the music gets into the folders, and for conducting the rehearsals and concerts. The MD also acts as (or gets a volunteer to) emcee at the concerts when needed.
The MD can also play an instrument in the gigs, which will very likely happen with smaller ensembles.
6. Finally, you need an Overall Outreach Ensemble Coordinator.
The Overall Coordinator is the person who “keeps their finger on the pulse” of all the other jobs, finding, recruiting, and orienting the volunteers for all the other positions, and working with them to help where needed.
As you’ve probably already gathered, while these six positions CAN go to six different people, there will probably be one or more of your volunteers who take on more than one of these jobs. However, it is the very rare person who would be willing (or able) to take on all these jobs. Even if they do, there would be a severe risk of burnout after just a few gigs.
WHAT’S OUR ALTERNATIVE?
It has gotten to the point that many concert bands worldwide are circling the drain. If we do not want our own concert bands to DIE, we have to do something.
Perhaps one of the things we can do right now is to reinvent our concert bands so we have Outreach Ensembles perform Outreach Concert Gigs.
As stated above, no one knows yet when or how this pandemic shutdown will end. Perhaps this is one way we can save our bands, keep our players, and continue to provide the blessings of live music to our community.