We’re continually pestered with questions about how we compose our program for each season’s concert (one person asked), so we’ve decided to open our kimono. Our Process is a delicate, multi-step affair that takes weeks of extreme effort aided by alcoholic beverages, internet databases, and a trash can. Here’s how we start:
At the end of every concert weekend we gather for a potluck dinner. After all are sufficiently relaxed, we determine the theme for the next season’s concert. Past concert themes have included The Best Laid Planets; Blood, Sweat, and Cheers; and Hook, Wine, and Thinker. (Eventually we tired of puns, so our current season’s theme is Keep a Lid on It!) Being highly collaborative, collective, cooperative, democratic, and fair, we all contribute themes and then vote on them. Our decisions are always unanimous.
Now comes the hard work. We all (but some more than others) go hunting for songs that somehow fill the bill. For example, we may include songs about hats this season. In fact, we will include songs about hats. What else can we keep a lid on? How about Egyptian sarcophagi? Alcohol consumption? Rabbit reproduction? Secrets? Extreme emotions? All that and more.
But back to the Process: At rehearsals, we gather our sheet music. We arrange ourselves in a circle around a ritual trash can. (The circle is very important. Perhaps we should have said a ritual circle, instead of a ritual trash can. When no can is available, the floor does almost as well.) We sing a selection, sometimes two or three times. We subject it to a evaluative rubric:
Does it fit the theme? (i.e., is there even one single word in the lyrics that could be interpreted as the theme?)
Has it been sung by the Art Mob in the past (x) years? (this variable can be from 5-10 years.)
Is it too new, or to put it another way, not old enough? (This variable keeps creeping further into the 20th century—or is it us, creeping inexorably into the 21st century?)
Does it sound too much like something else we like better? (This happens a lot with shape-note music.)
Will Brent threaten to cut his throat if he has to direct it? (This happens a lot with shape-note music.)
After every aspect of the piece has been thoroughly checked, we vote on adding it to the program. Over the weeks, many pieces are voted down.
The defeated music sheets (we call them “losers”) are flung into the ritual trash can in the center of the ritual circle. When the can is full, a Mobster is chosen to ritually stomp them down, for good measure.
When we reach the Magic Number (20+) we are done. We ritually welcome our season’s music selections (aka “winners”) by arranging them in alphabetical order. Then it’s snack time.
Hear the results of our Process when we present Keep a Lid on It! on May 18, 19, and 20. Times and locations are here.