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Jane Ring Frank’s Unique Approach to Concert Programming

North American choral music concert programming generally falls into three categories: performances of familiar masterworks like Handel’s Messiah; concerts which emphasize the historical performance of ‘early music’; and the highly-entertaining tradition of show tunes and pops programming. And the practical reality is that choral ensembles in this country are for the most part volunteer organizations, and thus limited in their approach to technically difficult repertoire.

Jane Ring Frank has long felt there was an empty niche to be filled in this choral tradition; with the formation of Boston Secession, she began a sustained experiment in bridging it. Her formula has been simple, but demanding:

  • Assemble a fully professional ensemble of singers and instrumentalists;

  • Demand an orchestral level of preparation and performance;

  • Program music that takes full advantage of the ensemble’s professionalism and present important musical works not often performed live due to their level of technical and interpretive difficulty;

  • Set this sometimes-unfamiliar music in its proper historical, social and psychological context, using text, musical examples, anecdotes and anything else that helps an audience grasp the intellectual and emotional content of the music.
This is the approach that has guided Ring Frank’s unique programming for Boston Secession. The result? “The music of ideas” – concerts which are superlative technical performances and thoroughly engaging entertainment, because they bring the audience into the world of ideas that generated the music itself.

“While we don’t actively market this terminology (we believe it reads a little too academic), the reality is our concert programming is very musicological,” says Ring Frank. “We start with big cultural ideas (history, war, death, family, the feminine, etcetera) and take a historical, sociological and technical approach to bringing repertoire together.”

According to Ring Frank, concerts aren’t just singing. “We give the audience texts, poetry, significant quotes, history, philosophy—anything that will help us bring the audience very carefully and consciously into the core of the thematic idea. I don’t do a lecture, per se, and I don’t give a pre-concert talk either. Rather, I try to create a context for the repertoire by simply talking with the audience about the ideas that inspired it. We find this opens up an entirely new dimension of engagement and entertainment (food for thought) for the audience.”
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