Quick Tips for Choosing a Last-Minute Piece

Last week, I needed to play fifteen minutes of solo classical piano music as a prelude before a university’s Baccalaureate Ceremony. Because of my performance schedule during the last month, along with all my teaching, I had to wait until just a week before to begin preparing. I chose some appropriate music which I knew but hadn’t looked at in twenty-plus years (I’m not kidding.) But since I knew the pieces, they came back quickly. However, the night before I was informed that I also needed to play a postlude.

A postlude is a completely different thing!

Preludes are generally slow and contemplative, helping people to settle and prepare for the coming ceremony. Postludes are usually quick and energetic, motivating people to leave their seats. While I was told that I could just replay something from the prelude, I knew that wouldn’t be the best choice.

I looked through the “wedding music” book I had chosen the other pieces from to look for something more upbeat. I found a piano transcription of a Minuet and Trio from Luigi Boccherini’s string quintet Opus 13, No.5. It was the perfect choice!

Here are two quick tips for choosing a perfect last-minute piece:

First, choose something from the Classical Period. Why? Here’s a description of Classical Period music in a series of two words: Predictable Harmony; Few Accidentals; Alberti Bass; Scale Patterns; Simple Rhythms; Parallel Motion. All of these make Classical Period music the easiest to sight-read.

Second, choose a Minuet and Trio. The form of a Minuet and Trio has a lot of built-in repetition which means there is less to learn. In a postlude setting, it also means you can choose to repeat or not repeat sections, depending on how fast people are leaving their seats.

And here are two quick tips for performing that last-minute Classical Period piece:

First, you don’t have to play something at full tempo. No one in the audience will be paying enough attention to criticize you for bringing the tempo down a few notches, if they even know the piece well enough to notice.

Second, if you must, play only the top notes (along with the bass). All the parallel motion in the Classical Period music means you can get away with playing only the top notes to keep the musical idea flowing without losing your place.

The other day, I followed these two tips. I didn’t play the Boccherini at FULL speed. I could play most of the parallel motion, but I wasn’t going to sight-read sixteenth-note octave runs. So, I played just the top notes in those spots.

I finished just as the last of the attendees were trickling out.