CHOOSE YOUR PROGRAM TYPE
Preparing an entire program is somewhat like writing a book or a movie. Most successful programs (books and movies included) follow one of two general outlines. Think of the last 300 or so page novel that you took the time to read. When did it really start getting good – to that point to where you couldn’t put it down anymore? Generally, that happens about two thirds of the way through or 200 or so pages in or an hour in to your favorite hour-and-a-half blockbuster. It is the climax. After that happens the writer generally spends the remaining fist full of pages wrapping up back story and explaining motive, etc. This is one type of program.
The other popular program type being used is one that builds tension all the way to the end with the final act or in our case finale musical number being the culmination of the entire hour of other numbers. We see this quite often in action movies and books. However it makes for a great Christmas program as well!
ELEMENTS TO CONSIDER
First and Final Numbers First: Your opening and your closing generally have the greatest impact on how the people perceive the rest of the program. I generally try to start with something short and peppy. This draws the congregation in to what you are doing. You are showing them that you worked hard at this and that you want them to feel engaged in it. You want them thinking, “Wow, this is better than I thought it would be.” The final number is really what should be chosen first. It needs to be your anchor and your message. It needs to be that small phrase that people can remember. For example, if I were building a program around my arrangement of Come, All Ye Faithful, the phrase that is emphasized the most is “Come let us adore Him.” All other numbers would be chosen to build or work into that message.
Orchestration: If you have vocal, piano or instrumental solos you need to consider whether those pieces are moving you toward your climax or calming you away from it – wrapping up the back story so to speak.
Message/Lyric: Sometimes programs work well if you consider chronological order. For example, When Joeseph went to Bethlehem would come chronologically before Hark, the Herald Angels Sing and may fit better both musically and lyrically before the Angels come in. Just something to think about.
Tempo: With the exception of the opening number, tempo can really determine where something will fit on a program. It is also important to use songs that vary in tempo and to use them correctly. Use all fast, upbeat songs and the program probably won’t have a clear climax to it. Use all sacred, slower hymns and everyone will be asleep before you get to your intended message. Mix them up a bit much as a good author will take time out of a fast paced storyline to explain why a character makes a certain choice or describes in detail the sound, smell and touch of something.
Narration: In my opinion, nothing bogs a program down more than a lengthy talk plopped somewhere right in the middle. Keep the program moving by only including short scriptures, spiritual thoughts, and testimonies. People have come to hear the message of the music. President J. Reuben Clark once said, “"We get nearer to the Lord through music than perhaps through any other thing except prayer." Think of the typical Music and the Spoken Word broadcast. How much time is spent on word as opposed to the music. Generally the word portion is simply to nudge the direction of the program in a different direction. One of my pet peeves is a Christmas program where the narrator (generally the most monotone high priest available) reads nearly the entire Nativity from Luke 2 while stops are made along the way for the songs that fit in where appropriate. It is like telling the same story twice. Consider verse 7: “…and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger…” This is inevitably the point where some stop –even mid-verse to start singing Away in a Manger. What if, instead, the narration was taken from 3 Nephi 1:9-14 (which might still be a little too lengthy for my liking). “…the time is at hand, and this night shall the sign be given.” And as the narrator is finding his seat the choir launches right into Away in a Manger. The verse led to the song rather than repeating it.
Above all, remember, the Spirit is able to pierce crusted hearts through music that may not otherwise be reached by the word alone. Use the tool of music as your Sword of the Spirit to prick the hearts of those who will come to hear the beautiful music you and your choir will present. This is where real magnification of your calling will come into play, in preparation for the pricking of hearts. May God bless you in your efforts. Seek the Spirit while programming and you will be guided accordingly.