As Musicians, How Do We Decide What Music to Play?

QuestionMark   sheet-music

During my performance career, many questions are often asked of me during the post-concert reception.

“How did you meet the soloist?”

“How did you decide upon the repertoire that you chose?”

“What pieces are you currently working on?”

These are great questions that sometimes do not have an easy answer. In my mind, I often say to myself, “would you like to know the long version or would you like to settle with the Coles Notes?”

In a recent blog post, I touched upon these questions and others. I was personally inspired by a very talented group of musicians named The Sidewalk Crusaders, a group of busking musicians from Humber College in Toronto, Ontario. This group performs regularly to raise money to pay for school tuition and books. The pieces that I heard at their performance included music by a variety of popular artists (“Beat It” by Michael Jackson and “Call Me Maybe”, by Carly Rae Jepson).

The pieces were filled with a new and fresh sound, improvisational sections and neat arrangements for integrated soloists within the group. I couldn’t help but tap my feet and enjoy the musical ride. The band created a new stylistic interpretation to their music and helped their audience to enjoy great music as well as enjoy the art and talent that they were nurturing in their daily learning routine in college.

While making these observations, I have to ask myself: “How do we decide what music to play?” I believe there is a voice inside each of us, visual artists and writers call this voice a muse. The muse is the voice that guides s along this journey. If we were to gather three musicians in a room and ask each of them which music they are currently learning, the results would be different for each musician. An even further personal observation, one that is true of many musicians: our styles of music, musical interests, and muses change over time. I enjoy playing a variety of genres and styles of music including ragtime, classical art music, jazz improvisation, small ensemble works, choral music, the list goes on.

Admittedly, my choice of repertoire is greatly influenced by the gigs that I am called to participate in. As a professional musician working collaboratively with classical, jazz and pop artists, I am regularly asked to accompany and support musicians in their choice of musical repertoire. Through the various opportunities that come to my email inbox or voice mail, I have the consistent privilege to enjoy a variety of pieces music at the same time. While looking at my current list of pieces to learn this summer, I am working on opera scores, clarinet and piano pieces, pieces for flute and piano, solo piano pieces for a recording project, church music, and jazz improvisation original compositions for a movie score.

An interesting observation that I make on a regular basis falls into one common thread: the music that is chosen by musicians gives them joy and excitement. Working with an opera singer on a Verdi aria; working through the Rachmaninoff piano concerto No. 2; mastering small ensemble works by Mozart; learning bossa nova grooves by Antonio Carlos Jobim; all of the music listed here has been chosen by musicians wanting to play this excellent music because the music speaks to them on a deep personal level.

I am currently working on a recording project with a production company of solo piano music. I have the opportunity to take full artistic control of the content of the albums. The music that I am choosing and practicing is music that I have a special personal relationship with: music that I love to play and love to practice. I believe this is the secret that will encourage fun music making activities at every turn. If you love the music that you play, it will speak to anyone that listens.


About mymuco1

Ian Green wears hats in many areas of the music industry including: co-founder of a technology start-up company that designs music education tools for mobile devices and the internet; music educator; music festival adjudicator; professional classical and jazz pianist; member in good standing of Ontario Registered Music Teachers' Association; member of provincial council of Ontario Registered Music Teachers' Association; member of the Canadian Music Festival Adjudicators Association (C.M.F.A.A.) Thanks!
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