perform

By Robin Steinweg

Recital Reception cookies, yum!

Recital Reception cookies, yum!

Oh, for a more relaxed recital! Jitters, butterflies, loss of sleep. At the worst, a sick tummy or stage fright. Brrr. Must our students experience these before every recital?

I believe students should know how to play under the increased pressure of a formal performance. But sometimes I’d like a relaxed recital.

Here are some ways I lowered recital anxiety this spring:

Start Early

*6 months ahead—secure the location.

*2-4 months—students choose songs (pending my approval). This gives them a sense of ownership.

*2 monthsget volunteers to help serve food and to video the recital. A wonderful stress-reducer for me.

*1 month—plan reception food, beverages, décor. Make lists of what I’ll need to bring (sound equipment, instruments, stands, programs…).

*1 month—memorize their pieces. But bring music just in case.

*1 month—send out reminders (via Music Teachers Helper) about date, time, location and volunteers. Ask each family to bring a dozen of something for the reception. This helped me so much!

Recital snacks Recital Healthy Snacks

*3 weeks—students dictate 2-4 sentences about themselves. I type an introduction for each of them. This was a great tension-diffuser at the recital. The intros often got people laughing (one student likes to wear pajamas to lessons, another likes her brothers to bug her when she practices because it trains her to concentrate in spite of distraction…).

*3 weeks—decide the order. Consider age, level, variety.

*3 weeks—distribute introductions to the students. Each one will introduce the next. Have them practice reading these aloud. Tell them to bring them to the recital, but not to stress out if they lose them, since I’ll bring a master copy. This was an effective way to deflect attention onto others instead of themselves. Less tension!

*3 weeks—invite families and suggest they invite friends and relatives.

*2 weeks—focus on expression. Students should practice hands separately and together slowly, to ensure songs are played consciously—not by muscle memory.

*2 weeks—students rehearse logistics (sit in order of performance, get to the instrument quickly, introduce the next student…). A big stress-reducer.

*2 weeks—explain recital etiquette. Students set the example for adults and visitors. No talking, whispering, giggling or wiggling. No cell phones or other noisy electronics.

*2 weeks—send ideas for snacks. This time I was made aware of people with potentially life-threatening nut allergies, so I needed to alert my families and make suggestions.

Krispie bars are always a hit

Krispie bars are always a hit

*2 weeks—do my recital/reception inventory and shopping.

*1 week—let families know what to expect when they arrive. Ask a couple of students to greet people and hand out recital programs. Visitors felt welcome!

*Recital Day—set up food and recital room early.

**What may have helped most to promote a Relaxed Recital: I had a graduating senior, in lessons with me for nine years. He’s played in coffee houses and for weddings. He entertained for nearly fifteen minutes before-hand. I let everyone know about this so they were prepared to come and listen. Students had little time to be nervous about their own performances, focusing instead on the cool guy playing and singing!

Tyler entertains before-hand

Tyler entertains before-hand

The reception was a hit,

Listening to Tyler helped them to relax!

Listening to Tyler helped them to relax!

and families stayed to visit. Students complimented one another and had a blast. They seemed much more relaxed for this recital. Win!

See? Happy and chillin' out!

See? Happy and chillin’ out!

Have you ever held a relaxed recital? What did you do to help your students have less stress?

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Student blooms musically

Student blooms musically

Best compliment I ever received (from a fellow musician) following a student recital:

“Your students made music—they didn’t just play notes, they played musically.”

I tucked it away in my heart, and I pull it out every so often. This is my highest goal for students. I have lots of goals for them, but none compare. I want students of piano to have a fine, rounded hand shape and non-collapsing knuckles—but it would be pointless if the music didn’t come from inside them at some point. I want them to practice till they are note-perfect—but I’d rather hear a few klinkers in a piece played with the whole heart than a flawless robot-like rendition.

But how do we get them from playing or singing halting, stilted notes—or even perfect notes—to making musical magic? Can it be taught, or only caught? Or must it simply grow to maturity?

Guitar PlanterMy present thought is that I can teach all the components that go into a beautifully musical performance, but something has to happen deep inside the student. It’s like a seed. I must amend its soil, cultivate it, fertilize it, remove weeds, water it, warm it, show it the sun… but I cannot force it to grow and bloom. The things I provide all go in, but what comes out is beyond my control.                                                                 

Before music happens, students must hear the real deal. Heart-felt performances by other musicians (try youtube, or better yet, encourage your students to attend concerts—oh, and don’t forget to demonstrate it yourself!). They must hear about the real deal, too. Awareness helps. I tell about and show them the details that go into it. If there are lyrics, we talk about how we’d say or sing them. The high points and low points, any surprises. We talk about how music makes us feel, and why. I tell them they have the capacity to move their audience, to entertain them. Or maybe they are their own audience—can they play so movingly that it affects their own emotions? Do they throw themselves into it?

I love it when the student reaches the point where I can say, “Excellent. You have the notes down perfectly. Now let’s make music!”

What do you think? Can making music be taught, caught, or must it be grown? How do you get your students to blossom–to do more than simply play notes on a page?

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