Live from China: Coverage of the Shanghai Isaac Stern International Violin Competition
December 19, 2012 15:36
I held a recital this past weekend for my students. It was the whole deal: loads of parents and friends, nervous kids, the agony of mistakes and the victory of excellent performances.
Behind the curtain
I want to give parents and everyone else a look behind the scene at what went into it. Hopefully you can use the information to prepare for your next recital!
Finding the venue
Being a computer geek, naturally I first looked on the web for churches and community colleges. I also asked my friends and other teachers for their recommendations of good recital venues. After many emails, several “no, you can’t use this place” messages, and phone calls, I was able to set up visits to three places. I decided on a church in Saratoga because of it’s free parking, piano quality, and venue size.
The location makes a difference
The chapel seated about 350 (which turned out to be almost a perfect fit for my group. Not too crowded nor too spacious). It had it’s own parking lot, nice piano, a nice multi-purpose room for a reception. It was well heated too! Score!!
Having a nice cozy church actually put my students at ease, since the setting seemed friendly, and the size of the facility was just right. It didn’t feel to big or crushingly cramped. It also had Christmas lights which made things a little more fun.
If you’re a parent and love to decorate, why not help your teacher by helping to create a space that makes your student more comfortable? It could be by helping to re-arrange the room or by setting up different decorations to make students feel more at ease.
Schedule the recital before kids have school breaks
I chose the date based on the church availability but kept in mind to not hold the recital during school breaks.
I actually really appreciate it when parents give me feedback on recital schedules. Lots of families in my area will be off to Lake Tahoe during the break. I would rather have them enjoy the snow without worrying about recital prep and rehearsal. Students will be in better musical shape too before an extended break from practice or lessons.
A couple things I focused on in particular three months before the recital were memorization, dealing with nervousness, improving stage presence and increasing projection. We also worked on recovery (jumping to a flagged point in the piece) in case of a memory slip. For those that struggled tremendously with nervousness and worry, I gave them permission to fail, permission to be less than perfect sometimes. Failing at something, I told them, like making mistakes in a recital, opens up a great opportunity to learn something new. Focus on the music and sharing. For these students, I really drove home the point of being EXTRA prepared and practice more
As it turned out, those students played wonderfully with only minor technical blips.
One other fun exercise I did was playing ringtones and slamming books on the table as a distraction for “don’t stop for anything” run throughs!
Rehearsing with the pianist
Accompanying takes A LOT of work. My friend Matt cancelled all his students to practice the week prior to the recital. Props to all piano accompanists out there-it takes a lot of work in the practice room! So parents, thank your accompanists.
I’ve learned that I need to give out pianist information well in advance, and check regularly that the students are getting rehearsal time and feel comfortable playing with the piano.
Additionally, for advanced students, I made sure that they looked over the piano parts so they would be more prepared for rehearsals.
Support the kids the day of the recital
As the students arrived at the recital, I tried to make a real effort to ask how they were doing and greet them with a smile. I had my wife and friends help with other responsibilities so I could focus on supporting and managing the students.
For students that were still developing the fundamental skills, I would give them quiet, gentle reminders form the front row. I also said to some students “relax” and “slow down” before they launched into their piece.
Like clockwork? Almost...
While the ideal is for the recital to flow with the precision of a fine swiss watch, it’s likely that something will go wrong: a memory slip, a kid is not ready to play, etc. Be flexible and keep things moving to the next student. Don’t worry- be prepared for different edge cases and have fun.
So there you have it!
A behind the scenes look at the making of a recital. Have you been to a recital that was successful and well done? Have you perhaps seen the good an bad sides of recitals over the years?
Feel free to share your recital experiences!
December 17, 2012 10:50
Does the above picture look familiar? Your kid is glued to a game when it's time to practice or do some painful task like *gasp* practice music!?
What do kids naturally gravitate towards doing when left alone? From polling my students, I’ve found that they would likely find something to play with, go somewhere to explore, or play video games. Kids are wired with amazing traits, but one trait I’ve noticed that kids aren’t born with is self-discipline for things that require perfection.
Kids aren’t born with self-discipline
When was the last time your child decided to set up his own practice schedule? Or was there a time where he accounts of the quality and time spent practicing? Most likely, never. (But if your child is like this, contact me ASAP because I want to learn your secret!)
What is self-discipline?
Here’s how Robert Brooks, Ph.D., a Harvard Medical School psychologist, defines the term self-discipline: “Self-discipline means taking ownership, accountability and responsibility for our behavior. It is one of the most important qualities we can help our kids develop.” Why is it so important?
- Self-discipline helps you to think before you act
- It improves your relationships with others
- It helps you perform better at school and work
- It makes you a good problem solver, and thereby improves your quality of life dramatically
Now wouldn’t it be awesome if our children were born with a natural incentive to love to self-discipline? We’d probably end up with an army of olympic level athletes and music virtuosos!
But let’s be honest now, kid’s don’t just pop out of the womb practice happy. When it’s time to practice, kids will always opt for more computer time rather than working hard at their scales. That’s where learning music comes in.
How music helped a wild child (me)So you already know a bit about my childhood
. From my mom’s account, I was a terrible student at 5 and 6 years of age. I could not hold still. My focus was all over the place and I was very hyperactive. Part of the result of that was me letting off energy through being a rambunctious, appliance-breaking maniac. Now this would have continued for many more years, my mother said, if I hadn’t played the violin. Something about the music lessons and practice made me have to calm down and put my focus on the instrument. After a year of learning music, my focus increased dramatically and my desire to roughhouse lessened.
Who's responsible here?
Who is responsible for practice? The kid, parent/guardian or teacher?
The answer to this question really depends on the level and age of the student. I would argue that the responsibility of practice rests on the student and his parents or guardian and the teacher. Each person has a different role.
Why not place the responsibility completely on the student? Think about your average 7-year-old’s perspective: He has no concept of pushing himself to potential excellence. Practice requires self-discipline that comes from mom or dad helping them make choices that teach them how to do it. So yes, parents play a hugely important role for ingraining a sense of discipline through encouragement, reminders, correction and rebuke.
The teacher on the other hand sets up the expectations of how long, and what to practice. A good teacher will go as far to show you how to practice it, too.
Love what you do and you’ll do good
It’s a given that loving what you do will help motivate you to do well in a given field (more on that in a later post). Yes, absolutely! We want kids to love what they do.
When it comes to music though, it can take years to develop that love. Think of it like romance. Some people fall in love at first sight. For others, it takes a long time to kindle a loving relationship. Relationships are never easy, and playing an instrument is really very much a lifelong relationship with music! Wow. That is very cool and also a little scary.
Be assured though that music produces wins that develop a whole person and makes it all worth it.
Some helpful ideas
If you are struggling with finding ways to help with the self-discipline arena, here are some thoughts to consider.
- Quick wins produce massive momentum for behavioral change. A quick win could be simply practicing everyday for a week then getting a prize!
- Simply telling your child to “try harder” will almost never work. If you find yourself trying the approach automatically, think carefully if you are over allocating responsibility to the child or tweak your pep-talk approach. Enthusiasm and encouragement helps.
- You gotta believe- that sounds super cheesy, but tactics really are not enough if you and your child don’t believe that music is important for living a full life.
- A routine is a powerful tool for getting kids to get things done.
It takes perseverance, but once you love music, it’ll increase the quality of your life forever! So parents, keep in mind the long term rewards when your child’s interests wane when the going gets tough. Hang in there, it will be worth it!
Previous entries: November 2012