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Repertoire maintenance, what do you do ?

Les B 16 Mar 99 - 10:42 PM
Rick Fielding 16 Mar 99 - 11:46 PM
Les B 17 Mar 99 - 12:48 AM
Les B 17 Mar 99 - 06:46 AM
AlistairUK 17 Mar 99 - 06:58 AM
hank 17 Mar 99 - 08:36 AM
puzzled 17 Mar 99 - 09:35 AM
Liam's Brother 17 Mar 99 - 09:54 AM
Les B 17 Mar 99 - 10:12 AM
Big Mick 19 Mar 99 - 12:47 PM
anon 19 Mar 99 - 12:55 PM
Barbara 19 Mar 99 - 01:03 PM
Roger in Baltimore 19 Mar 99 - 01:56 PM
Les B 19 Mar 99 - 05:05 PM
Don Meixner 19 Mar 99 - 05:33 PM
Sandy Paton 19 Mar 99 - 05:50 PM
Susan A-R 19 Mar 99 - 09:54 PM
AlistairUK 20 Mar 99 - 07:48 AM
Night Owl 20 Mar 99 - 01:28 PM
ballad singin Sue 20 Mar 99 - 08:42 PM
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Subject: Repertoire maintenance, what do you do ?
From: Les B
Date: 16 Mar 99 - 10:42 PM

This is a question for those of you who have performed for a few years. How often do you change songs and why ? I've got a couple of songs I've sung for twenty years and never get tired of them (although the audience might??), and others I drop after 6 months. Also, as I get older, I find it harder to learn new material and have to work harder to remember what I do know. What's the experience among all of you ?


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Subject: RE: Repertoire maintenance, what do you do ?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 16 Mar 99 - 11:46 PM

Les, a couple of years ago (when I was contemplating 50) I really began to worry about the difficulty I was having in memorizing songs. I've always worked from a pretty large repertoire, which if push comes to shove is probably in the 2000 song range. (not that unusual if you've got a good ear, and you make your living at it) It occured to me however that to actually learn the words to a song was now taking me 2 or 3 weeks rather than 2 or 3 hours. I went to my friend (and occasional therapist) Marc Gabel and voiced my concerns. As expected, he said "join the club guy, you're getting older, and dropping brain sells at a rapid rate." Well, despite the fact that I have great respect for Marc (even dedicated an album to him) I decided that this was too simplistic, and set about to come up with a solution. After trying several different ways to learn (only lyrics were a problem..the chords I could do in my sleep) I settled on something that REALLY works, and you may want to try it. Write the words (and chords) out on a big piece of card stock. (I use 2' by 2 1/2' and just stick it up on a wall where you pass by often. It's kind of an osmosis approach, but I find that by the end of the day I know the song. I think it's just the different approach that makes it work. Good luck


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Subject: RE: Repertoire maintenance, what do you do ?
From: Les B
Date: 17 Mar 99 - 12:48 AM

Rick - that's an accurate description of the problem, and an interesting solution; sort of like Alice sticking up notes in the shower (in another thread). I'm also curious how you "maintain" your set list... do you add the new songs as they are learned and purposely select which ones to drop, and, if so, what are your criteria? I heard a rock singer, when shouted a request at a concert, say "sorry, I don't even remember that song, that was two albums ago," and I wondered at the time what percentage of the old was shifted every year to make room for the new.


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Subject: RE: Repertoire maintenance, what do you do ?
From: Les B
Date: 17 Mar 99 - 06:46 AM

I am an occasional performer. It is frightening sometimes to realize that a favorite song of mine (and of the audience) is something I have performed for 30 years.

I try to maintain a list of songs I know. Basically these are songs that I have performed long enough that I could do them without preperation.

As I have maintained this list, I find that songs do drop off because they have lost their interest for me. For example, one year I learned and performed several times John Gorka's "There's a stranger in my driver's seat." I was recently listening to a John Gorka tape and realized that I had not performed that song in several years. It just lost it's currency for me.

I keep these "old" songs on my list for reference, for instance if my car gets stolen I might revive the John Gorka song. And I add new songs as they get to the level that I want to perform them publicly. A number of songs I learn never get to that level. I like the song, but I cannot get it to "work" for me. Just knowing the words and the chords does not mean I "know" the song.

Since I perform so infrequently, I keep a list of my sets by date and venue. I try to bring new some songs to each venue that calls me back.

Rick, I believe that a repertoire of 2000 songs that you can call up on command is impressive. And Rick, are you laptopping it on tour? I mean how sick and addicted can you get?

As I read this, it is more rambling than usual (which is pretty bad). Hope it may in some way help you.

Roger in Baltimore


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Subject: RE: Repertoire maintenance, what do you do ?
From: AlistairUK
Date: 17 Mar 99 - 06:58 AM

It's been seven years since I've set foot in a folk club. And I have found that most of the songs that I used to sing have now gone from my memory. I had a repertoire of about 500 songs that I could draw on and now it's down to about 50. It's not old age as rick puts forward, because I'm only 33 at the moment, but a lack of use that generally helps songs drop off a song list. I wish I could find my little blue book.


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Subject: RE: Repertoire maintenance, what do you do ?
From: hank
Date: 17 Mar 99 - 08:36 AM

I don't know of any rule of thumb, but I don't see why anyone would be concerned about forgetting songs they don't like enough to preformm often. Of why anyone would be concerend about some songs sticking for 30 years and others forgotten. The songs you love enough to do over again for years, are the ones that give your concerts a pattern. Something a long time fan can fall back on, trusting that you will do some favorite from that list, while the rest give the concert a new flavor so that it isn't the smae old thing that gets boring. BTW, if you ever make it big, the songs that got radio time and you are remembered for you can never forget. You will be forced to sing them, so you better like them. (ha, the idiots in the real world rarely make a song worth keeping popular) Which is one way you can concole yourself after a few years of obscurity. "Well at least I don't have to remember that old thing anymore, I can't belive I ever went through the effort of remembering it, much less performing it."


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Subject: RE: Repertoire maintenance, what do you do ?
From: puzzled
Date: 17 Mar 99 - 09:35 AM

I, too, have troubled over what songs to keep in the set list and what songs to drop. I've never counted how many songs i know but it is definitely in the hundreds. And Even though i am over 50 I don't have much trouble learning new songs. I mostly sing the new ones over and over again in the car when i am traveling until i have the words and phrasing and breathing worked out. The chords and rifts are easy (as Rick says) because i like the song enough to play it at home a lot or i wouldn't be learning it. What i constantly wonder about is the audience. There are certain songs that always seem to draw a response from the audience i.e. applauding when i start the song or the audience singing along right from the beginning or more motion (dance like). It seems to be true no matter how many times I play the same songs at the same venue. So I keep playing them in the set and fortunately I like doing them. Other songs come and go depending upon how i feel on any particular day or how the audience is responding. If the crowd is subdued i tend to do more up tempo livelier songs trying to keep my spirits up as well as to enliven the crowd. If the crowd is more attentive i like to do some slower more musically complicated numbers. And I always do songs to sing along with if the crowd is responding to audience participation. But, Les, I am constantly wondering how often to change the set lists. Does the crowd want the same old songs? (like they do if it is a record hit as mentioned by Hank) or do they want to hear new stuff? (i.e.how many of my own songs do i play?) This question is one of those constant worries that i have never satisfactorily settled in my own mind. Thanks for bringing it up. I hope we get some response to this thread that helps us all.


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Subject: RE: Repertoire maintenance, what do you do ?
From: Liam's Brother
Date: 17 Mar 99 - 09:54 AM

I used to wonder how some of the old traditional singers who a collector was recording could remember certain songs perfectly and only fragments of another. One day I realized they're just like us! The singers remembered all the songs on their "A" List, most parts of the songs on their "B" List and only bits and pieces of songs on their "C" List.

On retaining songs: write down a list of all your songs (adding when you remember new old ones) and sit down periodically with the sole purpose of singing only the ones you're starting to forget.

Many singers keep scrapbooks where they written down the words to their songs. Writing helps both in learning and in retaining because you have a reference source for YOUR version. Good luck!

All the best,
Dan


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Subject: RE: Repertoire maintenance, what do you do ?
From: Les B
Date: 17 Mar 99 - 10:12 AM

Some interesting points! I first became aware of the memory thing a few years ago when a lot of singers at a three-day summer jam session started pulling out their scrapbooks to sing from (and they hadn't in prior years). I mentally scoffed at this, but by the next year I really wished I had brought my "cheat sheets" along! In regard to the people who are at the level of producing hit records, I've often thought it must be both a blessing and a curse to have such popular material that that's all you are expected to do - just your past hits. Like the Kingston Trio having to do "Scotch & Soda" etc. It must be deja vu all over again !


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Subject: RE: Repertoire maintenance, what do you do ?
From: Big Mick
Date: 19 Mar 99 - 12:47 PM

I don't know a good answer other than sitting down with the express purpose of refreshing the memory. I don't buy the age thing, other than to say that the brain, like every other part of your body needs exercise. But to show you how it goes, St. Pat's morning while my band and I were performing on a TV show, I had to sing "The Parting Glass" to a departing weatherman. I have probably sung that song......Oh, I don't know.......maybe a gazillion times in my life. I got started and forgot a verse. Go figure. I was able to cover and get it all in, but the lads will be a long time letting me forget that one.

All the best,

Mick


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Subject: RE: Repertoire maintenance, what do you do ?
From: anon
Date: 19 Mar 99 - 12:55 PM

Vanity! All is vanity!

Get a music stand and notebook!

And new glasses...


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Subject: RE: Repertoire maintenance, what do you do ?
From: Barbara
Date: 19 Mar 99 - 01:03 PM

I don't agree, anon! How would you feel watching a play on the stage where the actors used their scripts?
A song becomes something very different when you don't read the words, but remember them...or even forget them. It's well worth the risk of blowing a verse or even a performance... I have seen really skilled professionals punt a verse or line, but I don't see them out there with the written words next time.
Yours for more singing from [even a faulty, aging] memory,
Blessings,
Barbara


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Subject: RE: Repertoire maintenance, what do you do ?
From: Roger in Baltimore
Date: 19 Mar 99 - 01:56 PM

I'm with Barbara. It's pet peeve of mine. Most singers come with a planned repertoire. That means a limited number of songs to remember.

To my way of thinking, a song is not really yours and not really heartfelt until you have memorized it. This includes songs you have written.

The only performers I ever forgave for having a song book were Lou and Peter Berryman. If you saw the size of their songbook and realized their willingness to do "requests" you might also forgive them. Plus their songs tend to be word filled.

Last week an audience member who had seen me perform before requested I do "that car song." I was flummoxed because I couldn't remember doing a "car" song. Finally she said, "About the Cadillac."

Then I was able to do "Built for Comfort" to which I have added a Lightnin' Hopkins verse:

Some like the Cadillac, some like the T-model Ford,
Ford got the chassis but it can't haul no heavy load.

You never can figure if you take requests.

Roger in Baltimore


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Subject: RE: Repertoire maintenance, what do you do ?
From: Les B
Date: 19 Mar 99 - 05:05 PM

Barbara: I'm with you. I think it's like taking a shower with a raincoat on to sing from a songbook, and I definitely think the memory thing is a function of age. I'm just learning to cope. What I also find that's maddening is being able to sing a song through once perfectly, but, in rehearsal situations, not being able to dredge up the verses five minutes later!! On the maintenance front, however, I find I'm much more selective about choosing a new piece to learn. I sit down and count how many cowboy songs, Irish, gospel, three chord country weepers, that I seem to have in stock, and what new addition will make me more versatile. If I learn just the songs I like, pretty soon I've got 50 songs that all sound similar.


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Subject: RE: Repertoire maintenance, what do you do ?
From: Don Meixner
Date: 19 Mar 99 - 05:33 PM

Hello All,

I've been performing for a solid 25 years and 50 has stared me in the face for a few years now. I haven't noticed the memory problem yet while singing but I bet I can't sit here and type out every song I know. What ever nmemonic there is that causes me to remember a song from years past I wish I knew. I'd bottle it. I can recall sitting with friends from 20 years gone and suddenly we were singing just the songs we knew at school and hadn't thot of since. The keys were the same and we even made the same mistakes in the same places. I hadn't sung "The Tellin Takes Me Home" since '78 I'd bet but there it was coming out like it was on the set list.

Because I play in an active band I try to bring a new song ready to play about every third practice. And we also have to learn the new Hot Tune to keep the requesters happy. The question is if we choose songs with such care, which ones do we drop when we bring in a new one?

Don


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Subject: RE: Repertoire maintenance, what do you do ?
From: Sandy Paton
Date: 19 Mar 99 - 05:50 PM

Caroline and I circumvented the problem by doing a regular Sunday Brunch gig at a local Inn. Four solid hours of singing every Sunday (except when we were doing other gigs away from home) for over nine years. That took care of our "mellow" repertoire pretty darned well, as we hated to repeat stuff week after week, when a lot of the patrons were there every week. However, the rowdy, the bawdy, the bellicose or angry protest songs had to be worked on for more general programs we were often doing on other days of the week. The kind of stuff that simply wouldn't fit in with a genteel Sunday dining crowd. No one got murdered on Sunday at the Inn, and no workers were seeking to throw the bosses off their backs. Too bad, too, because many of the diners were bosses who could well have used the message.

One good thing about it, though: sometimes, when the audience seemed to be less attentive than usual, we could venture a number or two about which we were less than confident. If we screwed up a verse, or I blew a chord or two, no one was apt to notice! Those were well-paid practice sessions. Kept a lot of songs at performance level.

Isn't that what they say? "If you don't use it, you lose it!"

Sandy


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Subject: RE: Repertoire maintenance, what do you do ?
From: Susan A-R
Date: 19 Mar 99 - 09:54 PM

I've always had to memorize because if it isn't five inches from my nose, I can't read it and that does detract from communication somewhat. I usually learn a song by listening and transcribing (thank god for pause buttons) or re writing something from a song book because that really helps me to learn. Then I am very grateful for the fact that I work alone a LOT, and can sing, make false starts, screw up words and generally make a fool of myself while learning.

I sing in a trio where the other two people use music and words. We have fun, and we are pretty good, but it does lack energy.

As for repertoire, doesn't that somewhat depend on you, and your audiende. If you don't like it, or you are bored, then chances are, they'll mirror you. You'll probably get there first (one would hope) and can change what you are doing. My main problem lately has been that I haven't been exposing myself to much new material (aside from here) and that's where I have to do some homework now. buying recordings, hearing people perform, listening to radio shows, singing with other people, and so on. That's what keeps it alive for me.


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Subject: RE: Repertoire maintenance, what do you do ?
From: AlistairUK
Date: 20 Mar 99 - 07:48 AM

I think this thing about memorising trad songs is something about caring about your music. For the last year or so I've been supplementing my salary by playing in bars around Recife, doing Beatles, Simon and Garfunkle James Taylor (someone else normally plays that with me as i am yer basic trhree chord kid) et al. Real MOR stuff that I just don't care about. And i use a song book...i haven't memorised nary a one, why? Because I don't really care about them. But a folk song be it trad or contemporary, I wouldn't dream of getting up and singing it from a piece of paper. If I can't remember it, then I don't sing it. Simple as that. But that's why I used to love folk clubs because you couod stumble your way through new material in a singaround and refine the song from there on.


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Subject: RE: Repertoire maintenance, what do you do ?
From: Night Owl
Date: 20 Mar 99 - 01:28 PM

Just my personal opinion....the CD's and records I buy, I expect to be technically correct, both musically and in the words,(partly because I use them to learn the guitar stlye and verses). I love going to live "folk"/bluegrass concerts and expect that at some point during the performance, a mistake will be made by the performers. To me , the creativity of a performer/s covering mistakes, making up forgotten words, losing the finger picking pattern, fixing broken strings, retuning (within reason), etc.,etc. is what makes a live concert fun...and makes the performer HUMAN just like me. The least fun for me is attending a concert in which everything is technically correct! I'd much prefer to listen to my stereo. I guess also, the difference to me is that, in dealing with the mistakes made in a band, an audience member can feel if the band is playing for the love of the music, or as a scientific study.


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Subject: RE: Repertoire maintenance, what do you do ?
From: ballad singin Sue
Date: 20 Mar 99 - 08:42 PM

First, I stopped listening to the radio in the truck and started singing to myself instead. If I couldn't remember something, I looked it up that night. Then I started putting whatever it was I wanted to learn on the bullitin board in my kitchen in BIG TYPE. I work on it when ever I'm working in the kitchen, which is a lot 'cause my washer & dryer are there. Mostly, I just had to make space for singing, both the new and the old. That was harder than the learning/remembering itself.


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