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Being an amateur without any teacher or tutor I'm used to make my own choices about what music to practice and play. Mostly I play just for my own pleasure and only occasionally I make short performances for other listeners. But I admit that I have some more or less serious plans about future public performances, and this influences to some extent which music I decide to work with.

Possessing the amateur's technical shortcomings and limited time to practice I can't choose pieces from the upper shelf, at least not when speaking about virtuosity. Fortunately there is a lot of good music even within my limited range, at least music I like to play myself. What worries me is that this music is not what my potential listeners would like to hear. I just purchased Skriabin's 24 preludes, Op.11. I like these pieces and some of them are definitely playable, even for me. But the reaction I got so far from my only (involuntary) listener, tells me that what I like isn't necessarily what I should play for others. I get similar reactions when playing Bach sinfonias and Chopin Mazurkas.

There are a few pieces that seem to be more easily accepted by my audience (which actually has mo musical education or classical music background). Schubert's 3rd impromptu, the first movement of the Moonlight sonata seem to be "nice" to listen to. I just wonder if I should adapt to this audience and limit my repertoire to a few popular pieces, or rather play music I like myself and neglect other people's opinion. Anyone else having made similar considerations? Any thoughts?

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Ignore that advice. Play what interests you and accept that the audiences may not always appreciate it. It's much better to receive mixed feedback for something you're emotionally invested in than positive feedback for something you don't care about. You'll end up having contempt for the people that appreciate your playing, which is one of the worst fates that can befall a performer. There are plenty of people who like Scriabin, Bach and the Mazurkas.



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Originally Posted by Ganddalf
I admit that I have some more or less serious plans about future public performances, and this influences to some extent which music I decide to work with.
Fortunately there is a lot of good music even within my limited range, at least music I like to play myself. What worries me is that this music is not what my potential listeners would like to hear. I just purchased Skriabin's 24 preludes, Op.11. I like these pieces and some of them are definitely playable, even for me. But the reaction I got so far from my only (involuntary) listener, tells me that what I like isn't necessarily what I should play for others. I get similar reactions when playing Bach sinfonias and Chopin Mazurkas.

There are a few pieces that seem to be more easily accepted by my audience (which actually has mo musical education or classical music background). Schubert's 3rd impromptu, the first movement of the Moonlight sonata seem to be "nice" to listen to. I just wonder if I should adapt to this audience and limit my repertoire to a few popular pieces, or rather play music I like myself and neglect other people's opinion. Anyone else having made similar considerations? Any thoughts?

I started a monthly recital series at the organiser's request (actually, more like prompting, after she heard me noodling on the piano once) a few years ago. I simply play what I like, though I rarely play complete sonatas, because I only play for around 25 minutes.

You aren't going to please everyone, but as an amateur playing for the fun of it (and hopefully, also encouraging non-classical people to enjoy classical music, and even consider taking up the piano), I would never dream of learning pieces I don't like just because a few people might like them. But it's true that there are some pieces that will be more enticing than others, to non-specialist audiences (I don't play for classical musicians - they would just compare my performances unfavorably to all the virtuosi they've ever heard live or in recordings): the ones with obvious tunes, or nice harmonies. Yes, I've played Schubert's Impromptus (D899/2 - 4), Mozart's Rondo alla turca, Chopin's Op.10/12 and Op.25/1 and Fantaisie-Impromptu, Schumann's Arabeske, Debussy's Arabesque No.1, Mendelssohn's Rondo capriccioso, Rachmaninov's C# minor and G minor Preludes etc - but that's because I enjoy playing them. I don't play Moonlight or Clair de lune or Für Elise or even Chopin nocturnes, because I don't care for them. Nor any Scott Joplin or Gershwin: I enjoy sight-reading through their music for relaxation at home, but I don't like it enough to want to learn and memorize them for performance purposes - even though I suspect they would be a hit with my audiences.

But I've also performed many pieces that aren't immediately appealing or are abrasive, mixed in with more 'popular' fare, and my audiences frequently ask me afterwards what they are, because they'd never heard anything like that before and enjoyed them - pieces by Bartók, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Ginastera etc. While not 'easy on the ear', they tend to be rhythmically propulsive, and I think that helps to draw them in (think of today's tuneless pop songs - if they didn't have strong rhythmic energy, nobody would want to listen....).

I suggest that you play a variety of pieces when you start trying out your recitals - don't play a string of slow Scriabin preludes or Chopin mazurkas, for instance. They would test the patience of many of today's audiences with short attention spans. Throw in some highly rhythmic tuneful ones like Chopin's Op.7/1 and Op.33/2 for instance. You can gradually push the boundaries when your audience gets to respect your musical choices. Never forget: variety is the spice of life (and there's nothing wrong with mixing up Scriabin and Chopin pieces........ wink ).


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Hi Ganddalf!

Audiences are diverse and you can't confuse one person's response with that of the whole audience. It does help if you know the audience to some extent and you know what they're used to and what will surprise them. Everybody needs some combination of familiar and surprising in order to be engaged in listening.

I think we have to work a little harder whenever we play repertoire that's new to many in our audience, especially if the composer or the style is entirely new to a lot of folks. We have to find what it is in the music that we love, that draws us in, and then really show those things when we play it for others. It's like introducing someone to a dish they've never tried; we've got to do something a little more than if we're just putting their favorite foods on the table.

Also, every composer has more conservative and more out-there pieces, and it could be that if you're introducing an audience to a new composer that the more conservative pieces are a good place to start... or if you have a more adventurous audience, then start with the out-there pieces!
I don't play much Scriabin, and don't have a sense of which are the more conservative/more out-there pieces in his oeuvre, but I have played the prelude Op. 22 no. 3 for various things. It's very very pretty and might be a good starting point for conservative listeners.


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Originally Posted by bennevis
Originally Posted by Ganddalf
I admit that I have some more or less serious plans about future public performances, and this influences to some extent which music I decide to work with.
Fortunately there is a lot of good music even within my limited range, at least music I like to play myself. What worries me is that this music is not what my potential listeners would like to hear. I just purchased Skriabin's 24 preludes, Op.11. I like these pieces and some of them are definitely playable, even for me. But the reaction I got so far from my only (involuntary) listener, tells me that what I like isn't necessarily what I should play for others. I get similar reactions when playing Bach sinfonias and Chopin Mazurkas.

There are a few pieces that seem to be more easily accepted by my audience (which actually has mo musical education or classical music background). Schubert's 3rd impromptu, the first movement of the Moonlight sonata seem to be "nice" to listen to. I just wonder if I should adapt to this audience and limit my repertoire to a few popular pieces, or rather play music I like myself and neglect other people's opinion. Anyone else having made similar considerations? Any thoughts?

I started a monthly recital series at the organiser's request (actually, more like prompting, after I noodled on the piano once) a few years ago. I simply play what I like, though I rarely play complete sonatas, because I only play for around 25 minutes.

You aren't going to please everyone, but as an amateur playing for the fun of it (and hopefully, also encouraging non-classical people to enjoy classical music, and even consider taking up the piano), I would never dream of learning pieces I don't like just because a few people might like them. But it's true that there are some pieces that will be more enticing than others, to non-specialist audiences (I don't play for classical musicians - they would just compare my performances unfavorably to all the virtuosi they've ever heard live or in recordings): the ones with obvious tunes, or nice harmonies. Yes, I've played Schubert's Impromptus (D899/2 - 4), Mozart's Rondo alla turca, Chopin's Op.10/12 and Op.25/1 and Fantaisie-Impromptu, Schumann's Arabeske, Debussy's Arabesque No.1, Mendelssohn's Rondo capriccioso, Rachmaninov's C# minor and G minor Preludes etc - but that's because I enjoy playing them. I don't play Moonlight or Clair de lune or Für Elise or even Chopin nocturnes, because I don't care for them. Nor any Scott Joplin or Gershwin: I enjoy sight-reading through their music for relaxation at home, but I don't like it enough to want to learn and memorize them for performance purposes - even though I suspect they would be a hit with my audiences.

But I've also performed many pieces that aren't immediately appealing or are abrasive, mixed in with more 'popular' fare, and my audiences frequently ask me afterwards what they are, because they'd never heard anything like that before and enjoyed them - pieces by Bartók, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Ginastera etc. While not 'easy on the ear', they tend to be rhythmically propulsive, and I think that helps to draw them in (think of today's tuneless pop songs - if they didn't have strong rhythmic energy, nobody would want to listen....).

I suggest that you play a variety of pieces when you start trying out your recitals - don't play a string of slow Scriabin preludes or Chopin mazurkas, for instance. They would test the patience of many of today's audiences with short attention spans. Throw in some highly rhythmic tuneful ones like Chopin's Op.7/1 and Op.33/2 for instance. You can gradually push the boundaries when your audience gets to respect your musical choices. Never forget: variety is the spice of life (and there's nothing wrong with mixing up Scriabin and Chopin pieces........ wink ).
All good advice. I think the bottom line is one does not really have to choose between classical pieces that would appeal to non classically oriented audiences and pieces that a more hard core classical audience might appreciate.

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People like short, fast, loud, and happy.

But, a whole program of that, over and over, won't work. 😀

Also, fast, loud, and detached on a bad sounding piano stresses out some listeners' sense of pitch--I think they hear a lot of banging or clanging and don't hear the pitches, melodies, and recurring themes.


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There is a reason why old forms have stood the test of time. There is variety, and balance, and they make sense.

Like the typical classical symphony by Haydn: slow intro to the first movement, which carries the meat of the work (though Luddy pushed it to the finale, following the Jupiter's example wink ). Then a slow movement followed by a dance (again, reversed by Luddy - he reverses everything.....), then a happy finale to send the audience smiling into the distance.

That's how I often program my short recitals - something slowish to get my fingers moving before the meat. There would be a dance piece somewhere - could be a movement from a Bach suite or partita, or a minuet or a scherzo or even a tango. The main slow piece could be a slow movement of a classical sonata or an intermezzo by Brahms. I've also played Balakirev's transcription of the Romance from Chopin's E minor concerto more than once, and despite its length, audiences love it. And something fast & furious to finish with. But I sometimes also add a slow piece as an 'encore' - the Aria from Goldberg is my favorite for this. It has become a favorite Bach piece for my audiences too.



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Originally Posted by hreichgott
Hi Ganddalf!

Audiences are diverse and you can't confuse one person's response with that of the whole audience. It does help if you know the audience to some extent and you know what they're used to and what will surprise them. Everybody needs some combination of familiar and surprising in order to be engaged in listening.

I think we have to work a little harder whenever we play repertoire that's new to many in our audience, especially if the composer or the style is entirely new to a lot of folks. We have to find what it is in the music that we love, that draws us in, and then really show those things when we play it for others. It's like introducing someone to a dish they've never tried; we've got to do something a little more than if we're just putting their favorite foods on the table.

Also, every composer has more conservative and more out-there pieces, and it could be that if you're introducing an audience to a new composer that the more conservative pieces are a good place to start... or if you have a more adventurous audience, then start with the out-there pieces!
I don't play much Scriabin, and don't have a sense of which are the more conservative/more out-there pieces in his oeuvre, but I have played the prelude Op. 22 no. 3 for various things. It's very very pretty and might be a good starting point for conservative listeners.
I think Heather is right here. It really does depend on who the audience is. I would select different music for playing for children than what I'd choose for background dinner music at a nice restaurant or a personal recital playing for mostly friends and family (who have to put up with me anyway haha!).

Some pieces may serve double-duty for certain audiences, so it would be good to build up your repertoire of those pieces. A good rule of thumb: most people prefer hearing what they can recognize. This may include playing arrangements of famous classical non-piano pieces for certain audiences.

But also balance that out with learning a short piece that means something to you. If you really love something, that can come across to an audience and make that more accessible. You may just sandwich it with ones that they might recognize.

So always consider your audience.


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Try to help the audiences see what you like about those pieces (or hear what you like about them)


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Originally Posted by Morodiene
It really does depend on who the audience is. I would select different music for playing for children than what I'd choose for background dinner music at a nice restaurant or a personal recital playing for mostly friends and family .

This may include playing arrangements of famous classical non-piano pieces for certain audiences.

So always consider your audience.

An amateur - assuming he is not charging for his 'services' - can, and should, choose what he wants to play to a certain extent, if what he does is entirely voluntary. (Though of course, if his preferred rep is atonal, he might find it difficult to find a receptive audience.... wink ).

Unless of course, he's willing to dumb down in the interests of pleasing his perceived audience, which leads to the question of how far he is willing to go. For instance, if playing for toddlers, nothing would please them more than recognizable nursery tunes and cartoon theme tunes. Even K265 would perplex them once you start on the variations.

And for general audiences, they would probably enjoy easy-listening stuff (think Richard Clayderman) much more than easy tuneful Bach or Schubert. But would an amateur classical pianist want to play Ballade pour Adeline and its ilk, if he is not paid to do so, and he isn't trying to get a foothold as a parlour pianist?

I had lunch at a posh restaurant facing Rynek Glówny in Kraków on my last day in Poland recently. There was a lovely six-foot Grotrian-Steinweg grand there that I'd have loved to try out, but the resident pianist turned up, and after placing a large glass bowl with a handwritten sticker "Tips for Pianist" (in English) on the side of the music rest, started playing. I sat with my friends right behind the pianist (a young woman, probably a music student hoping to make some pocket money), expecting some gentle Chopin. Instead, she played mostly pop songs (The Beatles, ABBA etc) in simple arrangements, all at a constant monochrome mp, non-stop, one song after another with no break in the sound (she kept the pedal down between songs). I looked around at the other patrons (mostly tourists) sitting at other tables: no-one gave her a second glance. Clearly, she was just the 'background music' and she knew her place, and what she had to do. She didn't look like she was enjoying it. By the time we left, the only tip in the bowl was what our little group put in, more out of sympathy than anything else.

I guess what I'm saying is that if you're a professional, or even an amateur trying to make extra pocket money from your piano playing, you have to adapt your repertoire to your audience as much as is feasible. Especially if you want to keep your job. If you are not in it for the money or future career, then think hard about whether what you do, repertoire-wise, is beneficial to you as a pianist.....


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If you don't want to please the audience, then why to play for audience?
Pleasing the audience will let you feel good, and I guess this is what finally drives you to play in front of an audience.

If the audience appreciates what is you in the performance, then go for it, go for your very own playing, under this circumstances you might even become famous!

If you don't care much about the audience, treating it like giving it the chance to perceive your performance without caring if it finally will have liked it or not, well, then you are an artist - and it is never sure if you will feel good or fall apart by your vocation.

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bennevis: I think you are taking my post to an extreme that was never intended. Where did I say play nursery rhymes for children? However, there is music that would appeal to children that one could play.

Is it really "dumbing down" when you have a population that is largely unaware of real classical music? They may have heard a few pieces on a commercial. But why is it suddenly "dumb" as a result to play those?

Whether or not he is paid I don't think comes into the equation. In either way, he can play whatever he wants. But obviously, Ganddalf is concerned about pleasing his audience:
Originally Posted by Ganddalf
But I admit that I have some more or less serious plans about future public performances, and this influences to some extent which music I decide to work with.


But one can strike a balance and play a little of what pieces they know - which may or may not appeal to you, the pianist - and sprinkle in there pieces that they may not know. If possible to speak to your audience (depending on if it is a recital setting where you have their attention), give an introduction to each piece you play and that will help the audience connect to the unfamiliar work. Something that gives the piece some context or an interesting fact about it works well, or even what it means to you personally.


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Originally Posted by Morodiene
They may have heard a few pieces on a commercial. But why is it suddenly "dumb" as a result to play those?

IMO, it is dumbing down to play classical theme tunes (from commercials etc) in piano arrangements, of the sort you can find in lots of beginner books. Obviously, I'm not talking Beethoven/Liszt or Bach/Busoni, which I don't think is what you're referring to.

That would be worse than just playing the juicy bit from Für Elise (the bit everyone knows), because the audience won't care for the rest.

But of course, if the pianist enjoys that sort of thing, that's fine. But the OP didn't give that impression.


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Whether or not he is paid I don't think comes into the equation. In either way, he can play whatever he wants.

I believe that is the whole point of what I said: if you're paid to do a job, you do it. If the restauranteur requests easy listening pop, you play it, not Chopin or Paderewski nocturnes. Certainly not a Bach Sinfonia.

BTW, that pianist in the Kraków restaurant had a handwritten list of songs on her music rest, and was systemically playing down that list. I guess that list was provided by her employer.

In other words, I think that any amateur pianist thinking of playing formally in public - assuming he isn't paid - should consider what he's prepared to play and how much compromise he's prepared to make in his repertoire (bearing in mind that he might have to spend a lot of time learning new songs - songs that might not be beneficial to him as pianist), and whether that's worth it to him, in terms of 'performing experience' etc.

On the other hand, if he's paid and the money is worth it, all bets are off.......


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Originally Posted by bennevis
no-one gave her a second glance

the only tip in the bowl was what our little group put in, more out of sympathy than anything else.
Clearly, she didn't know her audience, and wasn't playing music they appreciated. (Maybe at a nice restaurant in Poland, Chopin would have gone over pretty well?)


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For me the main issue is to hit the right balance between "pleasing the audience" and playing music according to my own taste and preferences. Also I have to think about the involuntary listener to my playing (who actually seems to like the sound of the vacuum cleaner more than piano music...).
Anyhow I find many of your comments useful. Choosing repertoire with some variation sounds like a good idea when comes to public performances. And include some more famous pieces along with music that isn't played so often.

Over the years I have written a small number of own pieces. When comes to composition I also feel that there is a conflict between musical integrity and the desire to gain popularity. Lately I have almost completely stopped working with composition simply because I can't decide which path to choose. It is very difficult to create something that meets my requirements of musical depth and at the same time being catching for the ear.

Fortunately I'm just an amateur.....

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I don't suppose you could find a different "involuntary listener"?

My own involuntary listener is very tolerant, but anyone would be fatigued listening to me practice the same 4 measures seemingly endlessly - doesn't matter what the piece is...

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I think the idea that one can please the audience OR please them self is a false dichotomy. Quite a big middle area to accomplish both.

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Originally Posted by bennevis
Originally Posted by Morodiene
They may have heard a few pieces on a commercial. But why is it suddenly "dumb" as a result to play those?

IMO, it is dumbing down to play classical theme tunes (from commercials etc) in piano arrangements, of the sort you can find in lots of beginner books. Obviously, I'm not talking Beethoven/Liszt or Bach/Busoni, which I don't think is what you're referring to.

That would be worse than just playing the juicy bit from Für Elise (the bit everyone knows), because the audience won't care for the rest.

But of course, if the pianist enjoys that sort of thing, that's fine. But the OP didn't give that impression.
Why not Liszt or Busoni transcriptions? And there are some fine transcriptions of popular classical pieces out there that can be fulfilling to play - opera arias arranged for piano for example. One doesn't need to play hot cross buns to appeal to audiences.

Also, why not play Fur Elise, the whole thing? What is wrong with that piece? People love it, and may not know about the beautiful other sections in this rondo. What a perfect time to show that to them.

I do think the biggest hurdle to overcome beyond playing music that might be less accessible (like Ginastera or Schoenberg), is to play something that is very long and drawn out. I wouldn't expect a casual audience - one not there for the explicit purpose of hearing a piano performance - to be able to sit through an entire sonata, or even a longish sonata movement, even if it is "accessible" and enjoyable.

I guess we disagree about the money thing. My personals standards don't change for whether I do something for free or pay, and I don't accept jobs that would force me to compromise that.

This is why I've chosen not to have to make a living with performing, so I'm not forced into making compromises. But for me, pleasing an audience is like how I choose repertoire in my teaching: a balance between what they want or like to play and what they need in my opinion to progress. For performing, it's a balance of what I think the audience will like because it's familiar, and what I think they would enjoy if they were introduced to it.

Having the familiar stuff allows them to pay attention and not feel lost or out of their depth. Then they are more open to listen to something new.


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Originally Posted by hreichgott
Originally Posted by bennevis
no-one gave her a second glance

the only tip in the bowl was what our little group put in, more out of sympathy than anything else.
Clearly, she didn't know her audience, and wasn't playing music they appreciated. (Maybe at a nice restaurant in Poland, Chopin would have gone over pretty well?)

Our little entourage of friends included three music teachers, and a failed musician (me). We were probably not the typical clientele at a posh Kraków restaurant.

Freddy was nothing like the imposing figure in Poland we expected, certainly not a figurehead for Poles, unlike, say, Tadeusz Kosciuszko, whom most non-Poles have never heard of. (Though I climbed 'his' mountain when I was Down Under several years ago....... grin). As for Paderewski, even more oddly - considering his political as well as pianistic skills - the only evidence I saw of him was the monument in Ujazdów Park, Warsaw (not far from that of Ronald Reagan wink ).


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Originally Posted by Morodiene

One doesn't need to play hot cross buns to appeal to audiences.

I guess we disagree about the money thing. My personals standards don't change for whether I do something for free or pay, and I don't accept jobs that would force me to compromise that.

I don't have your high standards.

If I was a jobbing pianist, I'd play anything if the money was right. Even Einaudi wink .

That's why I don't accept payment for playing......
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For performing, it's a balance of what I think the audience will like because it's familiar, and what I think they would enjoy if they were introduced to it.

In that case, we're not so different. (I don't play hot cross buns either, though I do eat them.)

Except that I draw the line at playing stuff I don't believe work as piano solos, like straightforward arrangements of operatic arias. Liszt's arrangements (paraphrases) - which do work well on the piano - are hardly the sort of stuff that non-classical audiences appreciate. Some of his less frilly song arrangements, however, are very effective both for the cognoscenti and the hoi polloi....(and I've never encountered anyone who didn't like Schumann-Liszt's Widmung, even if they've never heard of the composer called Schumann-Liszt).


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
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