DEAR MISS MANNERS: What is the correct way to hold a musicale? I want to host a party where the amateur musicians and singers among my friends and family can perform in a friendly atmosphere, just for fun.
A few difficulties come to mind, though. I don't want any invited guest to feel obligated to perform, but I also don't want a supposedly musical event where nobody feels like playing. I'd like to encourage beginners as well as more accomplished amateurs to perform. To avoid intimidating the less accomplished players, I'd like to have them perform before the more accomplished players, but I'd feel crass asking performers how good they think they are.
How do I keep performances to a reasonable length? Is it acceptable to rule out amplified instruments? Is it acceptable to have my own amateur group play last? Is it appropriate to ask those who would perform for some advance information (requirements for chairs or stands and so on)? Despite all my concerns, I don't want to take the fun out of the event by over-planning it. What guidance can you give me?
GENTLE READER: By an amazing coincidence, you have come to exactly the right place. Ordinarily, Miss Manners leaves novelty party-planning to others, having quite enough to do teaching hosts and guests to get through an ordinary evening without untoward incident.
However, she happens to have been one of the hosts at a wildly successful party billed as "an evening of horrible, amateur music." The premise was that many people love to play, even though they do not do it well. As an amateur violinist of Miss Manners' acquaintance replied when asked if such sounds are as painful for the player as for the listener, "Oh, no -- it's like eating garlic. Others can't stand it, but the person who does it has a wonderful time."
It is therefore essential to take great care with the guest list. Serious musicians must be excluded, no matter how otherwise charming they may happen to be.
Nor should the format be that of a children's recital, where the trade-off is to pretend to enjoy others' playing for their tolerance as listeners. This is too much of a strain, not only on the ears, but on the facial muscles and on that delicate struggle between the respective morality of truth and politeness.
Instead, the guests, having been asked to bring their instruments and music books, should be encouraged to approach other guests to propose collaborations, and pre-existing groups should be asked to be open to temporary additions. Chairs and stands should be provided, and -- unless you happen to live in an amphitheatre -- guests will have to be warned that amplification is precluded.
Miss Manners found that it worked well socially, if rather oddly musically, and the house was soon filled with little duets, trios, singers with their new accompanists and the occasional soloist content to plunk away in a corner. Happy combinations did find that they attracted listeners naturally, but what made the party work was that the emphasis was on playing, rather than performing.
The occasion happened to mark some birthdays, so before a late supper, another host, a singer, organized everyone into an instant orchestra and chorus for a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday." Any simple, well-known tune would do as well to get everyone together and round off the evening.
Another host made a cake in the form of a piano, with chocolate and vanilla keys, a mound of steak tartare shaped like a cello and so on. But now we are far from Miss Manners' area of competence. What made her a key player at this party is that she happens to be a very good listener.