Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Definitive Guide to Building and Maintaining a Repertoire List

One of the most important things about being a collaborative pianist is developing depth of repertoire, whether you choose to specialize in one area or play a wide variety of genres. When you're applying for graduate school, a young artist program, or your first staff accompanist position, it's important to be able to present a complete repertoire list so those who are interested in you can get a better sense of the works, styles and genres that you've played so far.

The problem is that very few of us actively maintain a rep list and are able to keep track of what we've played over time. It takes a lot of time and regular updating to be able to offer a complete rep list (especially one as jaw-droppingly awesome as Amanda Johnston's) and this post will tell you how you can start, update, and offer one that will impress at hiring time.

Getting Started

Back in the old days, those of us diligent enough to be updating our rep lists did so on a weekly or monthly basis, when we would frantically search our books and photocopies, find out what was new, and add it to our list, most often a word document that lived on our home computer.

Fortunately, things have changed and the process of rep list-building can benefit greatly from the advances made with cloud computing technology. I recommend using a Google Docs spreadsheet for keeping the data in your rep list, and have created a template that you can use for this purpose:

Collaborative Pianist Repertoire List

You'll need to create and be signed into a Google account to save the template and start adding your own rep to the spreadsheet. The advantage of a Google Docs spreadsheet is that since it's stored on Google's servers, you can update it from any internet-enabled computer or smartphone. This is much more efficient than the old practice of having a word document on your hard drive that you only added to once in a blue moon.

Updating Your Rep List

Once you've saved the template to your Google account, you can start putting your repertoire on it. I've listed columns for composer, title of work, title of larger work (if applicable), genre, and sub-genre and added a few commonly known works to give you an idea of how the setup works. Here are some things to keep in mind when adding data to the fields:

  • There is no need to insert rows. Simply add the latest data to the bottom of the spreadsheet, click on the arrows on the lettered columns, and choose "Sort Sheet A ---> Z" in order to alphabetize, ie. by composer. 
  • When listing composers, it's a good idea to put the last name first for the purpose of alphabetization.
  • I've used the genre field for dividing between Instrumental and Vocal repertoire. You can also add Solo to this field.
  • You can use the Sub-Genre field to even further segment your rep, ie. sonata vs. concerto, aria vs. art song. 

Presenting Your Rep List

The time will come when you need to present your list in various elegant guises. Here are some ways that you can segment your full repertoire list in order to present it when the time comes:
  • Select and copy any groups of fields and then paste and format them into a word document for official presentation. You can also paste them into WYSIWYG editors if you're building a website.
  • For a complete alphabetical listing, sort the entire list alphabetically by composer.
  • To divide into instrumental and vocal groups, sort the genre field, then the composer field, then copy and paste into a word document. 
  • To list a specialization such as violin concertos or lieder, sort the sub-genre field, then sort the composer field, then copy and paste the alphabetized contents of the chosen sub-genre field.
  • For even more input, sorting, and presentation options, you can download the spreadsheet and then import it into a database program such as Microsoft Access or Base. 

A couple of caveats
  1. Update your list regularly. Doing a mass update the night before you send out your DMA application is not a good idea. Setting up your list early as a Google spreadsheet and adding to it via smartphone or internet whenever you learn a work takes less time over the long term and results in a much better, flexible, and marketable product when you need it.
  2. Don't falsify the contents of your repertoire list. Only list the works that you actually can play. You're going to get burned if you pad your list. I recall a "cello specialist" I once worked with who only knew a few sonatas and no concertos. The best rep list in the world cannot mask a pianist with repertoire deficiencies. On the other hand, every single one of us has a slightly different specialization, the nuances of which can rise to the surface with a consistently revised list.
Although the template I created on Google Docs was intended for collaborative pianists, a few tweaks can make it work for any singer or instrumentalist. 

Do you have any useful repertoire list and/or spreadsheet tips? If so, tell us about them in the comments.


  1. Gee, all these years I've been fantasizing about writing my (lifetime) repertoire list into a spiral notebook. After thinking about doing all this, maybe I'll just keep on keeping it in my head. And be thankful I don't have to do all this for my work, 'cause I'm only an amateur player and collaborator.

  2. Thanks for the template! I am increasingly getting more and more attached to my iTouch and this will make updating my repertoire list so easy!

  3. Great ideas for maintaining a rep list...I'll have to redraft mine...again!

    Yes let's have lunch once I'm settled... Had a great tour of your new building from Christine Surman this week!

  4. ... and then there's keeping your rep in shape...

  5. A-HA! Therein lies the catch. For me, personally, it's entirely one thing to have X Schubert cycle and Y Schumann cycle and Z Fauré book, and be able to whip them out at a moment's notice. But it's entirely another matter when it comes to Poulenc cycles, Hétu sets or Hindemith brass sonatas. Or Jolivet's "Chant de Linos."

    Are we saying that we shouldn't at least have some record of having done the harder pieces in the distant past, and mark them with an asterisk or italics as a note to self that they need more work to revive?

    Thanks for posting this useful document, in any case. I only just started using Google Calendar to share certain elements of my schedule with my colleagues and students.

  6. Toto, you can easily add another column to the spreadsheet to mention the status of a particular work, ie. learned, performed, in process. But when you cut and paste the spreadsheet, just leave out that parameter if it's only for your own use.

  7. Anonymous9:14 PM

    Glancing over the massive repertoire list given as a sample, I find it a bit artful to list the individual songs of a song cycle as individual pieces. Particularly in an application for a collaborative program or job in the field it is easily seen through as a ploy to make your list bigger, something that I (as a frequent auditor) recommend against. If you've played "Winterreise", then list it, it being far more impressive to a professional as a whole than individual songs. Inflating rep lists in this way can backfire, as can listing complete operas that you have only partially learned. Honesty is the better policy....

  8. Whether one lists individual songs in a cycle or the cycle as a whole, it's up to the individual to be as truthful as possible. The person in question does in fact have a massive repertory and works at a major US university, so the technique obviously worked for them.

  9. Holy Hannah!!! LOVE THIS SITE! Thank you, Chris Foley, for putting this information out there. I am studying alot on my own and it's great to have something legit info to back me up. I have spent all day on your site! I have my Bachelors in Music but there was nothing at my university that remotely suggested any type of collaboration. I have learned so much and will be back for more! Thanks again for putting together such a great blog! i'm working on mine!

  10. Thanks Allison! There's a lot more to come...

  11. @Anonymous who mentioned that listing songs in a cycle individually may be falsification to a point:

    I tend to play for mostly younger singers who don't often do full cycles unless they are preparing recitals (for which they are more likely to have a free pianist who's enrolled in a required recital-accompaniment credit). So for their purposes, it's more useful to see the individual songs I have done because they can simply run a search of my spreadsheet by its full or partial title. Some may not even be aware that a given song is from a specific cycle of a different name (we have a lot of secondary voice students who are majoring in other fields, or music ed majors, etc.). So even in the rare instance that I've had the chance to work up a full cycle, I'm still going to list the pieces individually so a semi-clueless singer can find them easily. Often that's the difference between them reaching out to me for a last-minute gig and being too nervous to do so.