Chris BurtonThis article written by Chris Burton, Area 9 Treasurer

I’m going to tell you everything you’re doing wrong in your concert planning. Ok, not really, but I do feel like it is a good idea to take a fresh look at our programming from time to time to make sure that it is effective and engaging. 

We all know that typical Handbell concert format – talk about the piece, play the piece, repeat, talk about how a bell is made, tell a few bell pun jokes, re-enact the Schulmerich/Malmark wars… you know, the usual. We’ve all done this concert, and it definitely does fit a genuine need: we have to find something to do while Sally sets up her bells for the next song.

So, then what other things can we do to fill this time and make for a captivating concert? Here are just a few ideas:

1. Tell a narrative story

This works great for Christmas concerts. SATB choirs have it easy: they can buy all-in-one cantatas that tell a story or explore a central idea. These don’t exist for handbells, but why not make your own? Tell the Christmas story, or an aspect of it, interspersed with your songs for the season.  Or make up a story of your own and pick music that supports it.  This can be done with a live narrator, pre-recorded material, or told through dramatic acting.

1b. Host a sing-a-long

While speaking of Christmas: everyone wants to sing their favorite carols, so why not let them? Use this time to transition your setup to the next song.

Man in front of blue curtain talking2. Record your transitions

If you have the ability to project videos, why not pre-record your transitions? The technology enabling this is becoming cheaper and easier to use; you can even make Ken Burns-style videos with little to no effort.  It frees you up to focus on the music at hand, and it gives your audience a new place to look.

3. Join forces with another performing group

This has several benefits. Joining up with a choir or a brass band gives you a chance to double your audience. It also gives you the ability to use the time when the audience is focused on a different group to make your setup changes. It could also potentially allow you to work on less music or more challenging music than you usually would.  One type of group that you might not think about is joining up with a dance group. For my most recent Christmas concert, we had a trio of young kids dance on a few of our songs, and it was so much fun for everyone.  (Just make sure your tempos are spot-on!)

4. Engage your audience

Why not make your program interactive? Put on a variety show, make it trivia night, or dinner theater. Turn your concert into a game show, a karaoke night, or even open your concerts to live-tweeting, with door prizes for the most likes and shares.  Yes, there might be a gimmick or two in there, but involving your audience in the performance, in addition to serenading them with your beautiful music, helps create a connection to your ensemble that will have them coming back for more.