Is Your Repertoire Ready?

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repertoireIs your repertoire ready to play?

Imagine you received this phone call today:  

“Good morning [YOUR NAME HERE]. I’m so glad I caught you. We are having our church social coming up next weekend, and our committee thought it would be lovely if you could play for us. I know it’s short notice but it would be so nice if you could come and play. Please say you will. Everyone would love it.”

What would you say? Could you say yes?

Perhaps this is something you’ve been meaning to do, to get music ready to play for events like this. Perhaps this is even a group that you would really like to play for. But perhaps you haven’t gotten your repertoire ready yet. So you’re going to miss this opportunity. It’s a disappointment.

Let’s continue with our scenario.

After you make your excuses and turn this opportunity down, you start thinking that you really should put some music together to play. How hard could it be? So you pore through the music that you have but decide that you really don’t have anything that’s ready or suitable to play for an event like this. So you put everything back in the drawer, deciding that you will figure it out later. I don’t have to tell you that this is not a plan for success.

Whether you want to make money with your music or just share it with people who might enjoy it, first you need some music to play. Building a repertoire takes a little time and effort , but it may be a lot easier than you think. You don’t have to choose challenging music, and you don’t have to get hours of music together before you can start. But you do need to start.

I played my first background music job when I was 12 years old. I was hired by the company my father worked for to play for some Japanese business executives at a cocktail hour before a formal dinner. I had no experience in this and no repertoire to speak of. With the help of my teacher, I pulled together music from some of my very first harp books.

Playing the job itself was not as hard as I had imagined, although I wasn’t prepared for some of the distractions, especially when some of the guests tried to teach me to play the Japanese national anthem. But putting together the music turned out to be the easy part, and it can be for you too. When I help my students put together music for their beginning gig repertoire, I follow the rule of the three “E’s”.

E=Enough Repertoire

First you need to have enough music. This is the real challenge of starting to build your music list. Most occasions will need you to have will require you to have between 40 minutes and an hour’s worth of music to play. Let’s do the math.  If each one of your pieces is 3 minutes long, an hour’s worth of music would require 20 pieces. And I can guarantee some of your pieces won’t be even 3 minutes long. But many short pieces can be repeated two or three times. By creating “variations” for each repetition of the piece, you might be able to stretch a 45 second piece into a two-and-a-half-minute piece.

Another trick of the trade is to purchase some music books that have dozens of easy pieces in them.  It turns the task of choosing music into a no-brainer process. You don’t have to make any decisions about what to play next; just turn the page. This brings us to our second E…


…make it easy. You don’t have to play your hardest and longest pieces. After all, many times people won’t even be listening with their full attention. It’s not a concert; it’s just background music. Even if you will be playing a solo program – for a community center for instance – you don’t have to play Carnegie Hall level music. The program, like all your repertoire, should be about music that you love and can play well, not about anyone else’s expectations.

Start as I did with some of your very first harp books. Some of those easy pieces like “Moonlight” or “Purple Bamboo” or “Ebbing Tide” are wonderful pieces that are very simple and very lovely. People enjoy listening to them. Only you know how easy those pieces are.

Start with these easy pieces to build a repertoire base for yourself. Then add in some slightly more challenging pieces, ones that you can review occasionally and feel fairly confident playing. You can always add more variety to your music list over time.


Primarily, your music must be yours. It must be music that you enjoy playing and feel that you play well. As you build your list, consider how the pieces might be interchangeable, to give you a little variety and keep you interested in your music. Add new pieces regularly.  Over time, you can create “subsets” of holiday music or other themed selections. Just remember that when you are enthusiastic about your music, others will be too.

What are you waiting for? That phone call may come tomorrow!

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  • Bernadette O'Rourke

    This takes me back. I do not have a musical background and I was asked early on , by some friends, to play at the beginning of a little art gallery opening day. My teacher suggested I play very simple pieces, and draw them out to several minutes, playing an octave higher, starting a repeat at a different part in the music, improvising with chords and a phrase from the main tune in between . I also chose 3 pieces that I knew by heart. I played the simple pieces that I loved and that made all the difference.


  • Rob Stone

    Good suggestions, thanks Anne!


  • Jennifer Lane

    Thanks for this post, Anne. I had an inkling at the beginning of the year to put together a gig book “just in case”. No sooner than I did, I got a chance to use it. It was like a Field of Dreams moment: “If you build it, they will come.” Some of the pieces are my repertoire stand-bys, and some are simple tunes from a lead sheet. Recently, I was playing with an early music group and I was asked if I could provide 15 minutes of prelude. I didn’t have my gig book with me, so I just played some memorized pieces I had put in there. It was a great feeling because in that moment, I felt that all my hard work is paying off and I could finally share my playing with others.


  • Eby Bassiri

    Hi Anne,
    Are there any books that contain a bunch of such easy pieces that you talk about that you could recommend? Thanks.


    • Anne Post author

      Hi Eby! “Easy” is very subjective, isn’t it? What’s simple for one harpist is not so simple for another for any number of reasons. Sylvia Woods books are favorites with some of my students as are some collections of Bernard Andres, particularly ones like Marelles or Ribambelles. Kathryn Cater’s books are also quite popular and useful.


      • Wilma Hatcher

        I just played for a wedding on Saturday. I was absolutely exhausted with heat and humidity in the venue which had no AC. When we got to the recessional, for which the bride and her family did not request a specific piece, I launched into “Fanny Poer” rather than “Trumpet Tune.” I felt so much more comfortable with that and it was easy for me, given the situation. The family was very satisfied with my playing and I’m really ready for some cool weather!


        • Anne Post author

          It’s always good to play something you know you play well, especially when the situation is stressful. Great thinking, Wilma!


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