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Genre Neutral: Music For All Occasions

Read that title carefully, please. I’m not getting political; I’m being practical.

Playing music that you love is a great base for your repertoire, but if you want to play anywhere other than your living room, you will eventually need to play music that other people want to hear. The practical purpose of this post is to help you choose music to add to your repertoire that will serve you well, both because people will enjoy hearing it and because you will be able to use it appropriately in a variety of settings.

I started thinking on this subject after a recent My Harp Mastery Q and A call. One of our members opened the discussion by asking the question, “What are the gold standard pieces every harpist should have in her repertoire?” That question opened the proverbial floodgates. Everyone on the call had suggestions of music to include, music that they love to play. By the time the call was over, we had amassed a sizeable list.

Later, however, I began to consider which selections from that collection I would truly label as “gold standards,” as “must-haves” for every gigging harpist. I decided on three conditions a piece of music should meet in order to merit inclusion on my short list.

Those conditions narrowed the list considerably. If you apply those same conditions to your repertoire, you will be able to create a list that both pleases your audience and suits your musical taste whether your personal style is Celtic, folk, Latin, classical, pop or heavy metal. Here are the criteria I chose:

Condition 1: The piece must be cross-situational.

As much of your music as possible should be appropriate in a variety of settings. This is clearly time-efficient in terms of your practice time because you will need to learn fewer pieces. You will also play each piece more confidently and with less preparation time because you are able to play it more often. Think about music that you could play at both weddings and funerals, as background music and as solos, at church and at the coffee house.

Suggestions: Pachelbel Canon in D, Amazing Grace, Londonderry Air, The Water is Wide, Ode to Joy.

Condition 2: It should be familiar to a non-musician.

That concert repertoire you’ve been preparing is wonderful music, but the average listener at a cocktail party will respond more to music he knows. Playing music your audience is likely to know is not only considerate, but it will likely get you asked back for a return engagement.

A quick guideline to help you: if you hear the piece being used on television commercials, it’s a good possibility for you. After all, the big companies are betting that their customers will relate to it. Even if they don’t know the music by name, they recognize it.

Suggestions: Greensleeves, Clair de lune, The Flower Duet from Lakmé, The Entertainer by Scott Joplin.

Condition 3: It should be cross-generational.

Resist musical fads. You may need to learn Adele’s latest song for a wedding, but that doesn’t mean that the nursing home crowd will respond eagerly to it. Feel free to have whatever current or long-ago music you want in your collection, but for a piece of music to be on the “gold standard” list, it should appeal to young and old alike.

Think movie themes here, not video game themes.

Suggestions: Disney movie themes, Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, Andrew Lloyd Webber (particularly Phantom of the Opera), anything by the Beatles (yes, the nursing home crowd is aging!).

And one more piece you must know: Happy Birthday!

You may have other pieces which you believe belong on this list. I’d love to hear your suggestions. Please share them with your fellow blog readers in the comments below!

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