Music Teacher's Helper Blog

What Would You Do? – Follow-up on Janina (#10)

I hope you enjoy this series of fictional scenarios about teaching music, and find it at times thought-provoking, familiar, and even humorous.  We look forward to reading comments by yourself and other teachers at the end, about “what would you do?”

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To follow this story, you should first read Janina’s story (#9), if you haven’t already.  Below are a few scenarios that might result from what happened in that story.  Read them and tell us what you think you might do in these situations!

…OK, so you let Janina participate in the recital.  Her sudden keen interest and responsiveness and determination to learn the tune in the lesson convinced you to give her some more rope and see what she can do.

You explained verbally and by email to her and her mother how the recital works.  You do not have a lot of time between students to explain verbally, and you never know how carefully people read emails.  In this case, you explain that the recital will involves mostly beginners of varying levels, all playing together, rather than by themselves.  They will play a number of tunes all in a medley, one after the other, with students joining in on the tunes they know, and listening to others continuing with the ones they don’t.  The final tunes in the medley are the most basic tunes so that everyone can end up playing together.  Janina’s new tune comes last.

Before the actual performance, you start with a runthrough to get everyone a little more comfortable.  They arrange themselves on the stage, and play through all the tunes, so they can see how it feels to play from where they choose to stand or sit, and how it feels to have everyone playing together.  It’s all very informal and fun.

Most everyone starts playing together, and then a few more advanced players continue with a few more challenging tunes, then others join in as they are able, until all are playing the last couple of tunes together for a big finish.

Scenario #1 is the good one!  Feel free to make a comment on this one, but it’s not a “what would you do” situation because we’d all like it to be this way:  Janina gets up and plays (whether solo in a traditional recital, or in the group situation as described here), gets through it, feels pleased she has dared and succeeded, and gives both herself and you an accomplishment to build upon.

The next three scenarios aren’t so perfect.  Let’s start where we left off, beginning the runthrough:

At the runthrough, out in front, standing proudly, Janina is beaming.  She waits patiently through a few tunes.  Then she begins to realize that she won’t be playing for a little while.  Her proud stance crumples a bit.  You chat with her briefly as you can while still trying to direct and help the others.  You encourage her to wait for her tune.  Eventually you invite her to sit on the edge of the stage with some others, in case she feels too much in the spotlight.  One purpose of the runthrough, after all, is to have people settle into a relatively comfortable spot.

OK, it’s done.  Everyone seemed to get through it fine.  Nobody was perfect but they’re all in the same boat, and with the added piano accompaniment, it all sounded good, and everyone’s happy…except, you notice, Janina.  She tried to play along with her new tune when it came up, but it’s a new situation, playing with others, and not quite the same tempo she did at home.

She has dashed off to her mother.

Scenario #2: You find Janina being comforted by her mother, and her mother is seeking your help to make Janina more comfortable with the situation.  You know that in the big group, nobody can really single her playing (or her mistakes) out, so in the roughly 8 minutes you have to talk to her and a few others, you have to concisely help her.  Many possibilities go through your mind.

What would you do?

Scenario #3: You have to handle a number of students between the runthrough and the recital performance, but you want to make sure to chat with Janina and her mother to sort out how she should stand and make sure she understands what to expect.

As you approach, you can see Janina huddling with her mother, and her mother is looking at you with a look that might be a “how dare you put my daughter in this situation” type of look, but until you talk with them, you can’t be sure.

What would you do?

Scenario #4: You have to handle a number of other students between runthrough and recital, and by the time you try to find Janina, you can’t.  She has run to her mother and they have left the hall, without stopping to speak with you.  Her next lesson is scheduled for 3 days from now.

What would you do?

About the Author

Ed Pearlman
Ed Pearlman has focused on performing, teaching, and judging fiddle music for over 30 years, offering performances and workshops throughout the USA and in Canada and Scotland. His original training was with members of the Chicago and Boston Symphonies, and he played with orchestras and chamber groups at Yale and in Boston. He currently teaches privately in Maine and at workshops around the countr... [Read more]


  1. JassMakeMe

    I have read from #9 to this and I really am amazed by the ideas of having some run through.. I didn’t expect that coming.. But now I understand the situation specially when your child goes to a music student recital.

    Again I’m very very much thankful that I’ve learned in this blog..
    Thank you
    music studio recital

  2. Zach Millwood

    #2: Ask her “What is the worst that can happen? They’re just notes, you’ve played them all before (just in a different order), and that no one up there is going to get all of them right — we’re not perfect beings.” Additionally, remind her that she will be twice as capable next year and three times more capable the year after that, etc. and that this is just one recital of many.

    #3: Assuming you *asked*her*mother* about Janina’s participation first (if you didn’t, you deserve the look from the mom), share the same information from my comments on #2 above, then offer them the option of not playing but instead staying to watch. Do not offer them the option to leave; she needs to see the success happen in front of her regardless. If she needs to, have mom sit very close to her offstage but not onstage — no one else has their parents there; why should Janina? If she does, perhaps this is a sign she’s not ready for a recital at this time.

    #4: Wait and see. Assuming that you talked with her mother before the recital, there is no excuse for their behavior. If her mother is interested in Janina’s success in life, she’ll help the girl experience success, not run away from opportunity. If she does, you do not want to be teaching Janina — the apple does not fall far from the tree in most circumstances.

    -Zach M.

  3. Suzanne Lichtenstein

    Ummm, no offense, but I wouldn’t run a recital that way. I would do the medley-type thing at a once-a-month gathering I have that is very informal, where the kids show each other songs or skills they have been working on, we have refreshments, and we play “party songs” like heart-and-soul, the black-key-songs, etc. I always encourage spontaneous jams, and that’s how I would try the medley idea.

    By contrast, I think a recital should be more like a concert, with a program, a dress rehearsal beforehand, and no surprises for the student. Making a recital “informal” doesn’t make it less scary. Let’s be real about that.

    To build the student’s confidence level, I also teach the students that they should expect to perform at about 80% of their best practice level, that mistakes are okay, and it’s being able to recover from mistakes that makes for a real performer. And, as a teacher, I also know to have a student perform a piece he or she finds completely comfortable, not one that was just recently mastered. To qualify for a recital, the piece has to be one the student has been doing for quite a while, and can play while I’m tapping him or her on the head, telling a joke and trying to provoke a giggle, etc., during the lesson.

  4. Ed Pearlman

    @Suzanne: No offense taken. Keep in mind–these are fictional scenarios!

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