Benjamin Coy


Summer pops

June 28, 2013 at 11:10 pm

As July 4 approaches, many of us have summer pops concerts to play. While enjoyable to play and hear, these concerts don’t usually offer much artistic satisfaction. They’re often outside with terrible acoustics and/or amplification, the weather ranges from unpredictable to inhospitable, and the repertoire is rarely inspiring. Given all that, I’d like to take a moment to point out some of the positive characteristics of these shows.

For whatever reason, people who would never go to a symphony concert and honestly do not know the difference between a violin and a cello will go to summer pops concerts. Even without the incentive of fireworks, summer pops concerts are a great way to reach patrons outside the usual subscription list. That’s not to say that these people will immediately start coming to hear Shostakovich during the year, but it may be possible to get them to consider another pops concert, which will lead to more and more attendance over time. Whether they’re classical music aficionados or not, they will recognize and appreciate professionalism and quality. Give them a great show, and they’re more likely to come back for more.

Summer concerts also provide a fertile environment for arts organizations, food vendors, venue managers, and other players to meet and work together. The relationships formed at these events can become invaluable later through event sponsorships, in-kind donations, multi-disciplinary collaborations and other interactions. The nonprofit world survives on such relationships, and it is important to make the most of opportunities presented at summer pops concerts. For an orchestra trying to play a major role in its region’s arts community, summer concerts are an amazing chance to entrench itself, not a regrettable diversion from “serious” concerts.

For the individual musicians, the music programmed on pops concerts may not be as complex as Brahms, but it has value nonetheless. As a trombonist, I note that it is rare to play Rossini’s overtures (most especially William Tell or La Gazza Ladra) any time other than pops concerts. Similarly, there are technical challenges in most other pops music from John Williams’s movie scores to Sousa marches. Just think about the dogfight in the Stars and Stripes — that’s as good of an articulation study as you’ll find in the Clarke method. Why not take the chance to work on those kinds of passages and really nail the technique rather than faking through them and hoping the audience is too busy playing with sparklers to notice?

I hope everyone has a happy Independence Day and a lucrative pops season!

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