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Book: Art and Science of Planning a Choral Concert, The

By: Barbara Harlow    

Catalog Number: SBMP 1805     Price: $10.95    ISBN# 978-0-9648071-7-4

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Planning a choral concert:

Conductor’s vision…
Singers’ hope…
Audience’s expectations…

The underpinnings of a great concert are many and varied. This book explores the planning process from conception all the way to the after-concert reception.


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Barbara Harlow has directed choirs at all levels, elementary through college. At a junior high school, her teaching assignment included two choirs; at a high school, five; and at a community college, three. During her thirteen- year tenure at Santa Barbara City College, her choirs presented concerts at the Santa Barbara Mission and two Catholic churches; at three Protestant churches and the Unitarian Society; in two school auditoriums, and at the college campus center. Her choirs performed at numerous social occasions in various banquet halls in the greater Santa Barbara area. And her Chamber Singers toured to Mexico, Europe, Canada, and throughout California.

A four-year scholarship recipient and cum laude graduate of the University of Southern California, she has a master’s degree in composition from California State University at Fullerton. She is the author of a textbook for community college voice classes, You, the Singer published by Hinshaw Music, and How to Get Your Choral Composition Published, a publication of Santa Barbara Music Publishing. She sang professionally with the Roger Wagner Chorale, and in addition to conducting choirs, has taught voice, piano, guitar, and music theory. In 1990, after taking an early retirement from teaching, she established Santa Barbara Music Publishing.

Review of one of her many Santa Barbara choral concerts:
The Christmas season arrived in Santa Barbara a bit early last night with the first of two presentations of a “Christmas Carol Dinner Concert,” by the Santa Barbara City College Chamber Singers, at the Montecito Country Club.This is the first time the group has done a dinner concert off campus, and as director Barbara Harlow told last night’s thrilled and uplifted audience at the close of the program, she chose the main dining room at the country club because it is “one of the best sounding rooms in the city.”The 22 members of the Chamber Singers were in wonderful voice, providing a rich, emotional experience that brought tears to the eyes of several in the audience. The acoustics are wonderful, and the singers took full advantage of the cozy, candlelit room, singing from a balcony, or standing in a group, or scattered all around the room, surrounding the audience with beautiful sounds. Unfortunately, all tickets have been sold for tonight’s second and final performance. Bob Barber, Santa Barbara Newspress


Every choral concert has characteristics that are unique. Those concerts that are highly acclaimed are likely to feature an excellent conductor and to take place in a special location. In addition, these successful concerts will show evidence of much strategic planning.

Concert planning begins with the choice of literature. The music chosen will be the semester’s curriculum, or, for the non-school group, the season’s repertoire. Either way, the choices made will be the substance of many weeks of work. The concert, often being the driving force that dictates literature choice, must be carefully conceived. Ideally, its design will afford the opportunity for literature to be performed that has artistic merit, lasting value, a challenge appropriate for the ability level of the singers, and last but not least, audience appeal.

When planning a choral concert of several compositions, one needs to consider the “complete picture,” the way the compositions fit together, much like a picture puzzle. The program should have form, various colors that complement each other, and above all a sense of style.

Science enters the picture when we consider acoustics as they apply to our specific concert needs. The physical structure of a venue, coupled with its acoustics, play a huge role in making or breaking a concert.

It is a science unto itself to figure out how to collect and keep track of repertoire. The filing cabinet, as storage unit, presents challenges: first to collect music to fill it; next to decide on a way to organize it; and finally to create a way to efficiently utilize it as a resource.

Planning a choral concert is not a simple thing. It is hoped that this book will guide, and make easier, the process from beginning to end.


Table of Contents

Chapter One: Your Personal Choral Library
Collect and Organize Your Choral Library
Create a Database
Evaluate the Music

Chapter Two: Choose the Venue
Size, Equipment, and Limitations of the Venue

Chapter Three: Choose a Theme and a Title
Concert Titles
The Artistic Value of a Title
The Theme and the Singers

Chapter Four: The Musical Structure
The Concert Shape
The Concert Opener
The Concert Closer
The Concert Middle
The Art and Science of Finishing the Puzzle
The Intermission
The Encore
The Commissioned Piece

Chapter Five: The Physical Presentation
Staging the Large Choir
Staging the Small Choir
Staging the Multiple Choir Concert
The Appearance of the Choir
The Appearance of the Conductor
Movement that Enhances the Performance
Getting the Starting Pitch
Applause, the Final Bow, the Exit

Chapter Six: The Spoken Word
Should the conductor talk to the audience?
Readings at a Concert

Chapter Seven: The Printed Program

Chapter Eight: Business Matters
Concert Assistants
Sound and Recording Issues
Stage Management
Advertising the Concert
The Choir Support Group

Chapter Nine: The Concert for a Community Group

Chapter Ten: The Tour Concert
Why Take a Choir on Tour?
The Conductor on Tour
The Music You Perform
The People You Take Along
Business Matters
The Nature of the Tour

Chapter Eleven: The Professional Conductor
The First Consideration: The Music
The Second Consideration: Everything Else

Appendix One: The Venue Plan
Appendix Two: The Printed Program Plan
Appendix Three: The Business Plan
Appendix Four: Evaluate the Concert
Appendix Five: “Choristers and Other Critters”
Appendix Six: Repertoire Information
Appendix Seven: The Database
About the Author


"The Art & Science of Planning A Choral Concert is not only a wonderful resource for young conductors and new teachers, but it also provides new ideas that would help experienced professionals keep their concerts fresh."
Choral Journal Review Sept. 2012

“Barbara Harlow’s The Art & Science of Planning a Choral Concert includes suggestions, observations, and ready-to-use databases, representing years of reflection about what works–and what doesn’t. An immensely valuable resource for all choral conductors, it deserves to be in every director’s personal library.”
Dr. Anna Hamre
Director of Choral Activities, Fresno State University

“The Art & Science of Planning a Choral Concert, by Barbara Harlow, succinctly covers the many factors that go into planning a choral concert, from selecting a venue to managing a performance or tour. Especially helpful is Harlow’s discussion of programming. She considers organizing around a theme; creating a shape; selecting an appropriate opener, centerpiece, and closer; and arranging the concert order for maximum interest and effect. An excellent introduction for new conductors, this book also offers new insights for those seasoned in the field.”
Seth Houston
DMA student in choral music
University of Southern California Thornton School of Music

"The Art and Science of Planning a Choral Concert" is a MUST READ for all music educators and conductors beginning their careers.  Harlow identifies hundreds of essential details involved in putting together a concert, while not neglecting the most important element of all- musicality and artistry."
Dr. Giselle Wyers
Choral Studies/Voice
University of Washington

"Barbara Harlow has drawn on her extensive knowledge of choral literature and her own experience as a conductor to help the choral conductor at any level plan effective and artistic choral concerts.   Ms. Harlow's book covers every possible topic a conductor needs to consider when planning and executing a school, university, community or professional concert.   In addition, a chapter about touring defines what differences one must consider when the concert is taken on the road.  Included are templates that would be helpful in documenting the planning. This concise and very readable book will be an asset to any choral conductor's library."
Nancy Cobb LIppenss
Director of the School of Music at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana

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