Music for on-the-spot moments

Edited: September 17, 2017, 10:11 AM · I'm sure everyone has had a moment where you conveniently have your violin with you and there is a friend/family gathering. After seeing your instrument, people urge you to play something for them. And my problem is that I never know what to play. Long, lengthy, dramatic, and depressing concertos do not necessarily appeal to a wide audience, and most people do not have a long attention span.

Sometimes I will try to play a short part of Bach partita, but even that really isn't too interesting to general audience.

What pieces do you all play in these situations? And nothing too easy - something that is short, sweet, but can demonstrate some complexity of playing.


Replies (29)

September 17, 2017, 10:11 AM · Don't try to predict what your audience will enjoy. You just never know. That said, I think improv would be a cool thing to incorporate into your bag of tricks. You can even have the audience participate by giving you notes and/or tunes to which to base your material.
Edited: September 17, 2017, 11:13 AM · As Lieschen said, I'd just play what I love at the moment and enjoy. I often improvise something in middle of a piece that I can play from memory. If I'm having fun, my friends can feel it and will also enjoy. That's the whole point of playing for friends and family, as opposed to play for your teacher or a formal performance in front of other violinists.
September 17, 2017, 11:49 AM · When I play at my mother's assisted living facility, I play show tunes, patriotic songs, hymns, and just a few short classical works (usually Thais and Czardas). Those performances aren't for me to show off and the audience wouldn't make it through a full sonata or concerto movement anyway.
September 17, 2017, 11:58 AM · Things that have made it into pop culture.

Also a few fiddle tunes - around here everyone likes a fiddle tune.

Edited: September 17, 2017, 12:42 PM · Yixi and Lieschen said they'd just play what I love at the moment and enjoy. That's fine for some folks, others need to feel like they've got something prepared especially for that purpose.

To what others have suggested, I will add:

Solo Bach is okay, but for most people it's too long and too cerebral. The E Major Gigue is short and plain -- and it has some of the character of a lively fiddle tune if you play it right (well, that's my opinion).

Kreisler tunes -- Liebeslied and Liebesfreud. There's a reason these pieces have been used by great performers as encores for 100 years or what. And they don't need accompaniment, and they are compositionally trivial, so you can skip sections you don't like or can't play well. Here is a lovely performance of both:

And everybody likes Ashokan Farewell.

If I am asked to play something on the piano, I usually play "Soon Its Gonna Rain" or "Every Time We Say Goodbye." When my daughter was about 10, I wrote an E-minor arrangement of Billy Strayhorn's beautiful ballad, "Chelsea Bridge" for violin and piano, which she included in her first solo violin recital.

September 17, 2017, 12:39 PM · If you can play it Carneval Venise, a few variations. Maybe some vivaldi summer.
From my experience people without knowledge about violins are not as impressed by polyphonic structures as they are by fast passages and such.
I hate to say it, but take a look at what David Garret played as solo recordings. He did exactly what you want, impress people with his violin skills that usualöy dont care about violins.
September 17, 2017, 12:42 PM · Oh, I missed the "demonstrate some complexity of playing."

The thing is, nonmusicians are really terrible judges of what is hard or not. Czardas, for example, is a very easy (for me) piece which I often teach to intermediate students. To an uncritical audience, however, it is as impressive as the Brahms concerto.

The first question is, what would your audience like to hear?

Edited: September 17, 2017, 12:50 PM · Mary Ellen is so right. Non-violinists have no idea what's hard. For them, fast = hard (Czardas) and slow = easy (Bach Sarabandes).
September 17, 2017, 3:14 PM · I second Kreisler pieces and Monti's Czardas. Also Bach E major prelude can be a crowd pleaser.

Or, depending on the audience, a popular anime or movie theme could fill the bill. To me, the ending theme in "Castle in the Sky" and the love theme from "Cinema Paradiso" come to mind. Of course, for younger audiences, there are tons of recent Disney movies.

September 17, 2017, 3:26 PM · I usually play twinkle twinkle little star, and if I like the people enough, I might play it in tune.
September 17, 2017, 4:11 PM · As far as audience pleasing, the one tough thing, I admit, is when they enthusiastically request popular theme songs that you have never heard after you have already impressed them with music of your choice.

I once played at an elementary school as part of an outreach program with a bassoonist, where this happened. We each took turns explaining the basics of our instruments, and playing different short selections we had prepared. The kids absolutely loved Bartok, Brahms, and my demonstrations of extended techniques, and had lots of questions about them, but they also were just dying ( literally jumping out of their seats and screaming ) to hear the themes from Frozen, and Superman.

Since I have never been one to be particularly interested in pop culture, I hadn't the slightest clue what these sounded like. I had a hard time telling them that I just didn't know these tunes. After that experience, when I got asked to play at a family friend's son's birthday party, I came with a binder full of popular tunes and a music stand, just in case the kids wanted to hear that after I was done with my initial offerings. It was quite a successful plan.

September 17, 2017, 5:12 PM · I'm with Christopher Sinkule, except that I never like people enough to play it in tune*


* That's my excuse & I'm sticking to it!

September 17, 2017, 6:35 PM · Lieschen, part of playing gigs is dealing with requests. As you found, some kind of fake book is quite valuable. I am building a large electronic one so that I can keep it all on my tablet.

I once played a jazz trio gig (about 30 years ago) where some drunken idiot stumbled up near the musicians' area and asked for "Mr. Bojangles." I might have prepared it, had I any inkling that its author would later win the Nobel Prize for Literature. On the other hand, I have played a particular gig two years in a row, and both years someone asked for "Harlem Serenade." Need to add that one.

Adults generally understand if you just don't know a particular tune. Kids do not. They cannot comprehend how you would not know how to play "Let it Go." Being able to learn that kind of tune in a short time from a YouTube is a valuable skill because keeping up on popular hits via sheet music is expensive unless you are okay with pirated stuff (which I'm not.)

September 17, 2017, 8:38 PM · I like the idea of doing stuff like Thais and Czardas. If you are up to it, I bet a Paganini caprices would work fantastic.
September 17, 2017, 10:01 PM · Q: Do you know the police are towing your car because it is illegally parked?
A: No, but if you hum a few bars, I can try to fake it.
September 18, 2017, 2:38 AM ·
September 18, 2017, 6:41 AM · On such occasions I usually play the first Irish tune that comes into my head - likely a lively polka, jig or reel - or something from the English morris repertoire, mainly because nearly all my classical violin repertoire is symphonic or other ensemble.
September 18, 2017, 7:04 AM · I can only play No. 1 accurately, but I think the Brahms Hungarian Dances are great for that sort of situation.
Edited: September 18, 2017, 8:13 AM · All great suggestions. I find that Scottish or Irish airs are excellent, too, and often move people to tears. "Leaving Lerwick Harbour", or "The Coolin" for example.
September 18, 2017, 9:32 AM · @ Trevor, This is what I would do as well.
September 18, 2017, 12:38 PM · If you're just going to play for a minute, and not the whole piece, the opening of Zigeunerweisen is fun.

Otherwise, I like Thais and Csardas.

September 18, 2017, 1:55 PM · Just play the intro to "game of thrones" for the plebs.
September 18, 2017, 2:27 PM · Meditation from Thais!
September 18, 2017, 6:44 PM · Young Frankenstein?
September 19, 2017, 8:52 AM · Living in the south, I am always asked to play Orange Blossom Special and Devil Went Down to Georgia when people find out I play violin. Orange Blossom Special is fun to play and it is always a big hit.
September 19, 2017, 8:58 AM · Under no circumstances would I ever play solo Bach in this situation. LOL

I generally just play a fiddle tune. And I agree, Ronda, you can never go wrong with OBS. If I sense that they are wanting big romantic vibrato violin sound, then I will go ahead and play Thais. And, although it is of course That Which Shall Not Be Named amongst musicians, the layperson loves to hear Canon in D.

September 19, 2017, 9:01 AM · Oh man, Stephen, that was hilarious. I actually laughed out loud. There really are so many Irish tunes with titles like that too.
September 19, 2017, 10:09 AM · Appalachia Waltz by Marc O'Connor
September 19, 2017, 10:47 AM · Thais. And, uh, did Jerry Jeff Walker win a Nobel Prize for Literature?

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