Programming Stories

This etude seeks to approach concert programmes through the lense of storytelling, or in other words, through the (re-)contextualization of programmed music. This approach takes the audience strongly in mind, and conceives of repertoire and programming in the light of a story being told or experienced by the audience. Storytelling-based programming therefore serves as a way to shed new light on, and bring new experiences to, concert repertoire. The term story here is used loosely – the program doesn’t necessarily have to contain a narrative or characters – but the idea is to shape the chosen concert repertoire into an atmosphere or mood, and to bring out underlying ideas (or stories) through the music. The repertoire therefore serves as a base from which a story or overall idea can be developed.

To formulate a story or idea from repertoire means to analyze the aesthetic and experiential elements within the music – what does this repertoire evoke? This doesn’t mean just understanding the historical context of the repertoire, though this is relevant, it also means to consider the connotations the (imagined) audience may have towards a piece of music – such as how that piece might be perceived in popular culture, what emotions it can evoke, and what imagery it might bring. This approach also tends to consider how different repertoire in a concert program link together – is the repertoire related? Is there an ‘arc’ or overall shape of the program that is given by how the first piece works through to the last? Is it a journey through different emotions or landscapes? Or is there a more concrete narrative that requires other media or theatrical elements in order to be conveyed?

This process can start from a story or idea – but for this etude, we will start from the repertoire. This encourages a way of thinking about what music evokes, and what stories it might tell, beyond the score.


  • Begin with one central piece from the chosen concert repertoire.
  • Analyze the aesthetic and experiential elements of the central piece to build an overall story or idea for the concert, and therefore the concert design.
  • Describe the piece with adjectives (without the use of technical music criteria): g. bohemian, light, refined, clarity, minimalist, day-dream, magical, heavy, construction, rhythmic, Spanish, metallic etc.
  • What colours define the piece (overall or in specific sections)?
  • What imagery defines it (overall or in specific sections)?
  • Consider the ideal space or location to perform the piece (not necessarily realistic at first).
  • Describe the location with adjectives: g. industrial, modern, 1900s, church, smokey bar etc.
  • Describe the atmosphere of the space: g. efficient, clean, reverent, chaotic etc.
  • What elements create this atmosphere? g. lights, colours, visuals, smells etc.
  • What material elements create the atmosphere? g. stage set, furniture, walls, windows etc.
  • Imagine and describe the ideal audience for this performance:
  • Who are they? What age or characteristics? How many are there?
  • What kind of energy do you imagine the audience has? What do you imagine they like?
  • How do you imagine them behaving? How do they talk? How do they stand?
  • How would they move through, and experience, the space and repertoire?
  • Now contextualize the chosen piece:
  • How does the piece relate to the space and the audience?
  • How does your description of the piece relate to the description of the space and audience? Are there similarities? Differences?
  • What story or idea (inc. atmosphere/mood) might be brought out from these elements?
  • What additional media or performative elements (if any) might enhance this story/idea?
  • How will the musicians interpret and perform the piece in relation to this story/idea?
  • How will this story/idea be communicated to the audience (via space and performance)?
  • Apply this approach to the rest of the repertoire.
  • Consider the suitability of all repertoire in relation to the chosen story/idea.
  • Discuss the practical considerations in designing and performing the story/idea.
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