What is the atmosphere of your recitals? Is it a constructive experience for students?
When I was 5, I played in my first recital. The academy of music where I took piano lessons required several recitals a year from every student. One or two of them were more informal, in the huge attic of the very large house that served as the academy’s home, and then there was the end-of-year recital, which seemed enormous to a kid. It was held at a church, with lots of players and a big audience, and a scary walk to the piano–but there were printed programs with our names and pieces in them, and we got to be called up individually to receive our annual pins, showing how many years we’d been studying.
My own students do their own kind of “recitals” which I will explain, but I’ve also been to recitals as a parent of kids taking music lessons–some recitals have been well put together, and some not so well done.
Let’s look at a few kinds of recitals and what seemed to make them work or not work–for me, anyway. Hopefully this will jog your thoughts and perhaps you might think of ideas for freshening up your own studio recitals in some way. As always, we all appreciate comments added to these posts, which shed some light on your thoughts and experiences in putting on recitals.
Highlight Your Students, and make it Friendly
One aspect of the best recitals that stands out to me is the kindness, care and sincerity of the teacher. It’s nice when the teacher can introduce students or mention something about them or their work, and when the teacher can take in stride the inevitable mistakes or confusions or someone’s lateness, with a sense of humor and reassuring confidence.
A recital at a teacher’s home is friendly, or if it’s in a larger rented space, it can be made friendlier with the inclusion of drinks and snacks. This is one thing everyone can feel good about even if the recital isn’t the finest in musical entertainment.
Recitals Are to Be Enjoyed
Speaking of fine entertainment, it’s a mistake for anyone to think that perfection is what listeners hope for in a recital. The enjoyment of listening to students is not dependent on hopes of a brilliant, flawless performance. For listeners, as for teachers, the joy of attending a recital is that of seeing students engaged and making progress. If the teacher can help make this clear, people (including the students themselves) can better relax and appreciate the students’ efforts. It’s fun to see a recital include duos or group numbers as well, where students clearly have worked together as well as on their own.
Observe Some Formalities, but Not Too Rigid
Some respect for presentation is usually appreciated by all, including an orderly path to and from the performing spot, and some kind of bow to acknowledge the audience. That’s just show biz.
Recitals that are held in an atmosphere of rigid rules, or in a fog of fear of making mistakes, are not likely to contribute to a student’s education. Some teachers see such recitals as part of the school of hard knocks, where you get used to the demands of the music world. But it seems to me there’s plenty of time for students to experience hard knocks, if and when they become necessary, and there’s no predicting which music world each student will enter. It’s the fearful kind of recital atmosphere where stagefright is learned. I remember in particular one unpleasant and unmusical violin recital involving several different teachers of varying qualities–one of them was nearly brutal in physically correcting her student’s errors of position. It was not pleasant for the listeners, and I doubt if the students came away feeling any more inspired or determined. Humiliation is not a long-term motivator.
Teachers whose recitals are on the harsher side are probably marching to a drummer that is not quite their own. They may even be enforcing behaviors they presume to be necessary but which they themselves may not be comfortable with. It’s always helpful for a teacher to build a recital’s atmosphere around their actual students, their progress, their needs, and to be comfortable with why the recital is being held, and what kind of accomplishment or experience is hoped for.
What’s the Best Balance for You?
My own students are different from most, perhaps, because they study fiddle. The idea of fiddling usually means very different things to different people, because the word refers to a broad range of styles from cultures around the world. I like to strike a balance between quality performance and informality. In fact, performance per se isn’t always called for–participation is usually the key word, and my “recitals” are often disguised as music parties or sessions, where students are involved in starting tunes, playing with others, and testing out how well they listen, respond, lead, and help.
Whether formal or informal, recitals are a great way to mark the accomplishments of students. Just playing something they’ve worked on for others to hear is a great accomplishment–and certificates, pins or other memorabilia are nice memories of that moment. Recitals aren’t mid-term or final exams, and students shouldn’t remember them as scary exams they had to endure. Helping create a constructive atmosphere for the recital can go a long way toward making that milestone feel instead like a proud step up the ladder of skill and musicianship.