Designing Your Music Event

Here is a quick way to develop the program for a community engagement event. By answering the following questions, you will be able to determine more effectively what music and interactive experiences are appropriate for your audience. I have filled out this template in italics for an imagined Children’s Hospital event.

Who do you expect to be your audience? Hospitalized children from infants to teens, their parents and siblings. Staff.

What musicians will be playing? Two violinists who can play in one place and then stroll around to tables. They know many children’s songs and one of them is good at making up bass lines to accompany familiar melodies. The orchestra mascot will make a brief appearance halfway through the program and encourage children to dance and interact with him.

When Mid-morning Sunday

Where Hospital cafeteria, with round tables where a pancake breakfast is provided. Most people are seated, but some will get up to get more food periodically.

Why Entertain, provide hope and optimism, distract, create a sense of normal. Provide a way for the whole family to do something together. Enable families to have a positive, non-medical opportunity to relax.

How Discuss with your contact person what the parameters should be: Not too loud, not too energetic. Be prepared to provide calming-down music. Keep selections short, since patients tire easily. Be ready to stop and play another piece if something is not working. Play optimistic music.

Music Selection, the next step

What music do the children already know? What is familiar? What instruments do they know? Do they play an instrument or have they played or sung in a group?

How do you introduce yourself if they are not familiar with your instrument? Is there music you can start with that many of them know?

You could:

  • Start to play as they get breakfast and sit down, so they get familiar with sound of your instruments. Then go from table to table, introducing yourselves to the families and finding out something about them.
  • Play dance music of many types and encourage the children to follow the lead of someone who would coordinate that activity.
  • Have them conduct you as you play something.
  • Have them clap rhythmically or otherwise accompany your playing.
  • Have them do arm and hand motions to children’s songs.

What else can you try?

As you can see, your playbook will need to have quite a range of pieces, more than you will use for the session. That way if you want to prolong an activity which is getting a good response, you can. With that in mind, here is a sample playbook for two string players:


  • Rounds, canons Telemann Canonic Sonatas, Mozart Allegro, Gentle John, Haydn Allegro
  • Leclair duo Giga


  • Brahms Lullaby
  • Bach JS Gavotte II ou la Musette in G, Loure  for solo violin, Cello suite G Prelude, Bach Double for two violins, slow movement
  • WF Bach Pastorale
  • Litanie Schubert
  • Puccini O Mio Babbino Caro

Familiar (Interactive) tunes

  • Songs from musicals
  • Bingo, Eency Weency Spider, Old MacDonald, London Bridge, Pop! Goes the Weasel, The Farmer in the Dell, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star/ABC song

MUSIC FOR MOVEMENT Marching, dancing, skating, conducting


  • Bear Creek Hop, Cattle in the Cane, Cooley’s Reel, Drowsy Maggie, Sleepy Maggie, Irish Washerwoman, Lannigan’s Ball, Chicken Reel, Old Joe Clark, Say Old Man (can you play the fiddle), local fiddle music
  • In the Hall of the Mountain King
  • March of the Toreadors
  • Sarasateana Tango by Zimbalist

Music for the Imagination

  • Bartok duos: what is the title of this piece and what happens in the story?
  • Romanian folk dances


  • Ashokan farewell
  • Lulle me beyond thee
  • My love is like a red red rose
  • Bach movements in slow, major keys
  • Skaters waltz


  • Take me out to the ballgame
  • Skaters waltz
  • Pennsylvania polka

Songs with local roots

  • What should this include?

Seasonal: What is appropriate for your audience in your community?

For fall this might include songs about Harvest, Thanksgiving, fall, leaves, school starting, pumpkins, Halloween, apples, cider, syrup.

What else?

Now try planning an event for an adult audience:

Who Who is your audience: are they adults? How many do you expect? What styles of music and instruments are they familiar with? Are they accustomed to physical activity? Do they have any special needs?

What What categories of music will you need for this event? (See the previous sample playbook for ideas)

When How long is the event? Is it close to nap or mealtimes that would affect audience attention and energy levels?

Where What resources are available at the venue such as exercise classes, yoga or meditation? Does the venue want them mentioned or promoted? A hospital may offer Tai Ji but want more participants, or it may have social workers and support groups that are underutilized. A library may want the audience to know about a medical literacy or ESL program.

Is there an event before, during or after yours that might affect your start and stop times, or disrupt your session? Are there sounds such as air conditioning, fans or phones that might affect the ability to hear and stay focused during your event? What is the lighting and the seating configuration? How live is the venue? Is it carpeted?

Why What are the sponsor’s goals for the event? To promote music-related activities that encourage exercise and movement? To reduce stress? To entertain or distract? To strengthen a sense of community or group?

How What actions and pieces will you utilize in your session, and why?

To help participants learn to reduce stress, musicians could lead the group as they do belly breathing. To strengthen a sense of community within the group, musicians could lead a group sing-along. The musicians could also demonstrate what entrainment is, and how it could help participants exercise longer and more intensely: by having participants walk in place, they will notice that they match the speed of the music as the tempo changes.

Do you have a handout? Does it contain your organization’s contact information? Who pays for copies? How did you determine the length and content of the handout? Did you provide links to more information and resources available online? Did you include any listening suggestions?

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