Thursday, December 10, 2009

the second set

At last Friday's concert, a "hometown" celebration in Stouffville after extensive touring this fall, I got to do something that is, for me, a rare treat. A second set.

My most typical concert performance is an all-ages interactive event that lasts about an hour. For the younger ones in an inter-generational audience, this seems to be about the right time limit... and it allows enough time for a concert experience that can be shaped to include lots of fun and activity, some more reflective moments, and an inspirational experience for all ages that is satisfying and leaves the audience wanting more... Generally, a good balance.

But here's the thing. I've been writing more and more material that doesn't fit that all-ages format very well (or at all). There is a whole range of folky stuff that I've been able to work in a song or two here or there, but the one hour all-ages format doesn't really allow me to explore and develop and build on a sequence of those songs and stories that can be very meaningful and moving but that doesn't have the kind of "action" that will hold the attention of the younger ones.

There are also some songs that come from a place of deep pain and struggle and are very intense - both to sing and to hear. Those songs are also getting very strong and positive response (the few times I've performed them), but they don't really "fit" in the one hour all-ages format.

So what to do?

Last Friday night, which was advertised as an "all-ages concert," began at 7:30 pm (a late start for younger children), and was divided into two sets. At the close of the first set (the one hour, all-ages "interactive" set), I said that for some folks it's getting well past their bedtime, so if they need to leave, that's just fine. But I wasn't done singing yet, so for anybody who wanted to stick around I had another set of music for them - a set that would be in more of a "stories and songs" and less of a "sing-along" format...

Well, that second set - including a bunch of brand new songs that have not been recorded on a studio album - ended up being a real highlight of the evening, both for me and (judging by the banter and applause and ovation/encore and comments afterwards) for the audience as well. There is something about going into the dark places - emotionally and musically - that adds a level of intensity and vulnerability and depth and that makes the inspirational and uplifting elements of the experience come alive in another dimension.

The only other times I have done this kind of "second set" have been in two house concerts, where I did an initial set that was especially child-oriented, and then there was childcare provided and I did a second set for the parents/adults. These events, too, have gone very well and received a great deal of positive feedback.

Maybe this is something that I need to do more often...


At 6:25 PM, Blogger Brenda said...

my experience is that if you go into dark, painful places, others will come with you because they've been there too. anytime I write about struggles like that I get a lot of response. re small and tall -- I think you've done well for the small set, and I don't think you should make any apologies for giving us taller ones the benefits of your many talents. take care.

At 11:58 AM, Blogger Bryan Moyer Suderman said...

Hi Brenda. Thanks so much for your thoughts and encouragement. I appreciate it!

I actually think you have illustrated my dilemma rather well, as your comment suggests that what I have done so far is mostly "for the small set"... and this is indeed a common perception. However, when I look over my last 3 studio albums, there are actually quite a few songs on each of those albums that speak particularly to the "tall" and that one would never find on a typical record "for children." (eg, I'd say 3 of the 15 songs on the "Can't Keep Quiet" album, 9 of the 12 songs on the "My Money Talks" album, and 5 of the 14 songs on the "A New Heart" album). However, because these songs are released in collections of "songs of faith for small and tall," the perception still seems to be that I have been writing and recording primarily "for children." Clearly I'm uncomfortable with these kinds of hard-and-fast distinctions between what is "for children" and what is not...

I also suspect that the fact that I've been including some of these more "tall"-oriented songs on my recordings has been having a "braking" effect on marketing and sales, as people aren't entirely sure how to categorize my stuff. Is it "for kids"...? Or "for adults"...? Or what?

(My answer, of course, is BOTH... it's for the CHURCH, which is an intergenerational community... but these aren't the categories by which our record stores and iTunes categories are organized...)

And, since most of my performances to this point have been "all-ages" performances, those songs more geared to the "tall" tend not to be sung as much in concert (I can usually only manage 2 or maybe 3 in an hour-long concert) because they don't engage and "hold" the attention of the little ones in the same way. That is why I found the experience of "the second set" so enjoyable and gratifying...

So this is my dilemma. While the intergenerational element (small AND tall together) is at the core of what I do (and I love it!), this seems to run counter to how our society works (when people hear "all-ages" they immediately assume that means "for children"... and often "for very young children"). I'm wondering if I need to "give in" and start dividing my recordings and performances more clearly along generational lines (the way folks like John McCutcheon and Tom Paxton have done).

In other words, although I have been writing for "us taller ones" as well as "the small set" for years, perhaps I need to "package" the recordings and performances differently in order to make that clear, and more effectively reach that audience (those audiences). As much as it pains me to draw those distinctions...

Sorry for going on and on about this, but obviously these are things that I am really wrestling with. These kinds of conversations are helping me to see things from different perspectives, and work through my own thinking. Thanks again very much for your feedback and encouragement! Any further thoughts are very welcome...

At 3:17 AM, Blogger Colleen Taylor said...

I picked up Canadian Musician magazine yesterday. Some good songwriting articles. Here are a couple of tidbits:

"As songwriters, we are constantly encouraged to write lyrics that cut 'close to the bone'--digging deep into the most painful parts of our own lives to find the truths and true experiences from which a powerful lyric can be crafted."

"If you cry while you are writing the lyric, that's catharsis. If other people cry after hearing it, that's craft."

~ Bruce Madole, p. 58


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