Concert planning and logistics: concert week

As I prepared for my last performance of this season, I recorded below what I think about during the week before a concert. You can read about my music preparation at Concert prep cycle – music and the logistics foundation at Concert planning and logistics: time of booking. Proper planning allows me to spread out tasks and keep everything enjoyable. I would find it really stressful to have a lot to do at the last minute. I try to organize well enough that the only thing I need to do on concert day is concert transport and the performance itself. I’ll even move some of that to the day before, perhaps packing up, or even setting up at the venue, if I can.

Final preparations actually start a bit earlier with making whatever appointments are needed for that week. If you need to get a haircut, manicure, pedicure, car service, wardrobe alterations, whatever – plan these in advance. Grooming and errands can be spread out over several days. Another way to prepare is to handle the publicity tasks well in advance. I’ll write about that another time. On concert week, I’ll post a reminder on my Facebook page and send a message to my email distribution lists. It’s best if this is a reminder, not the first time people have heard about the concert. I’ll check the venue website and make sure accurate information is posted. Sometimes I’ll find that someone has dropped the ball, and the earlier I find that, the easier it is to repair the damage.

My accompanist and I will have agreed on the pieces and program order well in advance, so I can practice transitions between pieces. About a week before the concert, I’ll draft the concert program. I double-check the title, composer, composer dates, and copyright notices for all the pieces, including the piano solos. If I have room for program notes, I’ll research the bell pieces and ask my accompanist to email me something about her pieces. I keep a record of her responses, so I can reuse the information. If your performing partners want to see the program before it’s printed, give them plenty of time, at least a couple of days before you need it back. I once had someone email me a program expecting me to respond within minutes, which happened to be the only day it didn’t rain that December, so I was out buying a Christmas tree. If you’re asking someone else to proof the final program, send a PDF of exactly how it looks, including graphics. Otherwise, they may not have the right software to open it, or errors may appear in the final version that were obscured in draft by different formatting.

The best way to proofread a document is to print it out and read through it with a ruler under each line. It’s very difficult to proof a document on a computer screen without missing something. An especially good method is to read through it backwards, word by word, looking for spelling and grammatical errors. Then look at it holistically for things like margins, spacing, and fonts. Be sure to print out and review the final final version in the format you’re sending on to others. Then you can check for reformatting that might happen between programs (like a Word or Publisher document converted to a PDF), and you’ll have a hard copy master in case you need to make last-minute photocopies. Never wait until the day of performance to have the programs printed. That’s just asking for printer or computer problems!

Confirm details with your venue contact several days before the concert: date, time, place, and your arrival time. More than once, I’ve arrived to find that someone at the venue wasn’t expecting me, even when I’ve taken this precaution. If that happens, remain calm and pleasant, start unloading, and eventually they’ll sort things out. If you’re performing in a larger concert someone else is coordinating, confirm your warm-up time and that any support people you’re expecting (like the sound tech) will be available for it. You may also want to provide notes for the master of ceremonies. Print them out to take with you, in case they didn’t get to the right person.

A few days in advance, check over the bells for loose fasteners or any adjustments needed, like spring tension or voicing. The bells respond differently after adjustments, so it’s good to have several practice sessions on them with the new settings. If you have new shoes or new wardrobe, practice your entire program wearing them. You don’t want to find out at the venue that your sleeves catch on the bell handles, or that higher heels cause a problem.

The day before a concert, I like to organize things so I get a full practice session, a real dinner, and a good night’s sleep. Take care of any last-minute tasks, like charging batteries for the camcorder, offloading the camera memory, or putting gas in your car.

On concert day, I figure out what time I need to drop whatever I’m doing and start getting ready to leave, which is usually about 90 minutes before I want to arrive at the venue. I don’t usually practice unless the performance is late in the afternoon or evening. If I do practice, I put things like my earplugs in my music bag as soon as I finish. I check that I have all the sheet music in my binder, with setup notes. (Even though I perform from memory, my accompanist doesn’t. If for any reason she arrived without sheet music, I wouldn’t be able to perform.) If I’m playing a piece for the first time, I’ll create setup notes from memory, then go set up the piece on the bell table from memory, and compare the two. I try to relax as much as possible, perhaps reading over my music or singing through my pieces thinking about the moves, or doing something completely unrelated. When I first started performing, I used to rush around right up until the concert buying things or sewing table covers or whatever. Now I give more priority to taking care of myself so I can do my best at the concert.

My husband loads the tables and foam pads while I wipe down and pack the bells and stage everything for loading. Then he loads the bells for me or I load them myself, if he’s gone when I need to leave, for example. Packing and loading is heavy work (we have stairs), so I like to finish it before showering. I look at my bell closet, bell drawer, office, and staging area to make sure I didn’t forget anything. If my husband has been helping me, we’ll do a quick recap: X number of tables, bell cases, plastic boxes, etc. One key variable is bell tree vs. no bell tree. He needs to know that up front, because the bell tree base stows in the car floor under the tables. He also needs to know whether I want the extras table. You can read more about this in Concert equipment and transport.

When dressing to go to the venue, I wear a top with a V-neck that I can pull over my head without smearing my makeup, since I usually make up and dress at the venue after setting up. It’s a fairly nice black top that I could wear as performing attire in an emergency. I usually wear casual pants and often carry shorts to wear while setting up. I also wear jewelry instead of carrying it. The last things I put in the car are my lunch tote (unless I have a meal right before leaving) and my music bag. It’s useful to have my music bag handy to toss in anything I may have forgotten. If I’m taking a meal, I like to choose something easy to eat (and easy to digest), like hard-boiled eggs, carrots, and a roll. I find it helpful to eat plenty of protein on performance day. If not taking a meal, I often pack almonds as a snack.

In the car, I check that I have directions to the venue, and put my wallet in the glove compartment so I don’t have to keep track of it at the venue. I take one more look in the back of the car and count bell cases. By now, I can generally see right away if something is missing, though I suppose it’s only a matter of time before I show up at the venue without the foam pads or table skirt. When I was first performing, I relied heavily on a concert checklist, and I’ll still use it sometimes if I’m feeling stressed and don’t trust my memory.

Most of the logistics at the venue were already discussed in other articles. I’ll just add here that keeping equipment together while setting up at the venue makes it easier to remember to bring it all home afterwards.

While packing up after the concert, I ask about:

• Audience count
• Whether the program ran on time (if I didn’t track it myself)
• Whether there were any problems with the balance
• How to obtain a copy of recordings or photographs (and a printed program if I didn’t get one beforehand)
• Whether I can take publicity materials with me (like a poster from the venue)
• Whether they would like to have me back, and approximately when I should contact them

If you’re just starting out, you might also ask your venue contact for referrals to other performance venues. Church music directors and retirement home activity directors tend to know others who might be interested in hosting you. When working with a professional accompanist, discreetly find out whether she’s been paid, so you can ask the venue about that if necessary before you leave. When working with someone besides your regular accompanist, also ask for your sheet music back.

At home after the concert, we usually unload the car right away and bring the bells upstairs. Sometimes we’ll park the car in the garage and lock it so we can unload the next day. I hand-wash my performance attire and gloves as soon as I return home, so they’ll be ready for the next concert. If anything needs mending, or I need new nylons, I like to take care of that at my leisure. If your attire needs dry-cleaning or ironing, don’t leave it until the last minute. I also shake out (or launder) the practice table cover before putting bells back on it, as well as my performance table cover, and leave the lid off my gadget box overnight so my ballet shoes and wrist braces air out.

During the week after the concert, I put the concert program in the venue file and throw away any notes I no longer need. I log the performance on a spreadsheet with date, time, venue, repertoire, audience count, whether the concert was recorded, what I wore, what table dressing I used, who accompanied me, and how much she was paid. I also send thank you emails or written notes, such as to a church concert coordinator and other venue contacts, unless they write and thank me first. Then I respond and tell them how much I enjoyed performing for them, and that I hope they’ll invite me back.

I like to review the concert with my accompanist/coach, watching video or listening to audio if possible, or I make my own notes. It helps to be very precise about any mistakes and what caused them; knowing where to focus helps me improve the performance next time. After one concert, scheduled as a run-through for a more prestigious venue, I was disappointed with my performance. I went through the concert piece by piece making notes about what worked and what didn’t. It made me realize that there was, in fact, a lot of good work, and it helped me prepare for the next concert.

Now that I have my own video camera, editing video and posting it to YouTube (after getting permission to post copyrighted materials) is also on my list of post-concert tasks.

Copyright © 2012 Nancy Kirkner,