Choral Arts Philadelphia is an ensemble of professional musicians who present historically informed performances inspired by Johann S. Bach. Wanting to commemorate Bach in a way that had never been done before, Choral Arts decided to execute a concert series highlighting a pivotal year (1734-1735) of Bach’s life and perform 18 rarely-performed cantatas in the exact way they were intended to be performed by the composer himself: in an arc spanning the Christian Church calendar and secular seasons. The series was appropriately titled 1734-1735: A Season in the Life of J.S. Bach.
This was a huge deal for Choral Arts because it was the first time audiences could fully immerse themselves into Bach’s vision for the 18 cantatas and experience them the way he had intended. One thing Choral Arts knew was that to coincide with this momentous occasion, they needed equally as momentous program booklets. That’s where we came in.
When Choral Arts came to us, their main desire was to have a fresh look and feel for the programs that went against the norm of a regular classical music program. Bach’s life was full of color and creativity and these programs were to match that. We were ecstatic to have a client who was open to change and encouraged us to create a deliverable that went against anything they had ever seen. We very eagerly accepted their task and got right away to designing.
Most people are unaware of the unintentional, and unspoken language that we connect to everything. As a society, we put labels onto things and create expectations and stereotypes. Unfortunately, most people are also unaware that when creating these expectations, we also create limitations for ourselves. As designers, we always strive to find ways to resist the visual and conceptual language of the task we are given, and deliver work that is atypical and individualistic. Even with something as mundane as a classical music program, there is always a way to stray away from convention and in return, bring new life into the piece of work.
So, want to know how we executed this?
We decided to go against the norm of classical music programs both visually, and conceptually.
Visually, we injected strong and vibrant colors into our design. When flipping through the programs, you will see a myriad of colors that catch the audience’s eye and creates a pleasant experience while following the cantatas. We also used unconventional images, featuring action shots of members of Choral Arts and their instruments, mid-performance. These images offer a personalized touch, which in return creates a stronger connection between Choral Arts and their audience.
And conceptually, we designed both programs entirely on the basis of something unexpected, math. Something people tend to overlook when it comes to Bach is his strong background in mathematics. Bach used mathematical devices in all of his cantatas and many argue that he deserves to wear not only the title of composer, but also mathematician. To highlight this, we numerically visualized the correlation between his compositions and the Fibonacci Sequence and used it as the basis of our design. From the layout grid to image size, color scheme to text size, we used the number Phi (the ratio between any two numbers in the Sequence) to make all of the primary visual decisions. Adding such an interesting personalization to the piece only strengthened the connection to the audience by gaining their appreciation and praise for honoring the composer in such a way.
Making these strong and unconventional design decisions allowed us to deliver a set of programs that challenged the audience’s expectations and avoided predictability. Nowhere else will viewers find programs like these and because of that, they will be remembered. Not only will Choral Arts be remembered for pulling off an extremely difficult series of performances, but they’ll also be remembered for having the most unique programs for a classical performance.