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Design a Great Concert Program

Brad Howland

Brad Howland

I borrowed most of the ideas in this article from a book by Robin Williams: The Non-Designers Design Book, Design and Typographic Principles for the Visual Novice. In this book she talks about the four basic principles of good graphic design: Proximity, Alignment, Repetition, and Contrast. These principles can be used to design a great program, whether it be for a solo recital, orchestra/band concert, or CD recording.


The first principle states that you "group related items the related items are seen as a cohesive group rather than a bunch of unrelated bits." In musical performance, I take this to mean that you group together items of a similar genre, style, or instrumentation. For example, if you are planning a recital with four solo and three brass quintet works, don't alternate solo, quintet, solo, quintet, etc. A better choice is to put the solos on the first half and the quintets after the intermission.


The principle of alignment states that "nothing should be placed on the page arbitrarily. Every item should have a visual connection with something else on the page." After giving this some thought, I decided it means our programs should have a unifying structure. For example, one common structure is chronological--the program progresses through time from early to modern music. Another structure is from small to big, as in a concert that begins with a chamber ensemble and finishes with a work for full orchestra.


This principle states that you "repeat some aspect of the design throughout the entire piece." Your program should be consistent, and it should have some kind of unifying theme, or "hook." If the theme can be summed up in a catchy phrase all the better! For example, "A Tribute to Liberace," "Great American Trombone Concertos," and "Sinatra Rarities" all give a concise, memorable summary of what the concert or recording is about.


The final principle states that "if two items are not exactly the same, then make them different. Really different." A typical orchestra program consists of an overture, solo concerto, intermission, and symphony. Although this is a tiresome formula, it does provide contrast, and shows the different things an orchestra can do. Ms. Williams tells us, "just don't be a wimp." You can't contrast things that are slightly different, like dark brown and black, or a short overture and a long overture by the same composer.

I'm sure that by following these four basic principles arts organizations and individuals can produce interesting, dynamic programs that come people will come and listen to!

About Brad

Brad Howland is the Principal Trombonist of the Victoria Symphony Orchestra.

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