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Emily Grossman

Hot Fudge Sundae

May 23, 2011 at 8:38 AM

Today was my eighth annual Steele String Studio Recital.  This was the first year that I awoke from a full night's sleep completely well and without migraine or any other excuse. 

Yet, I couldn't shake the stress out.  I practically destroyed my laptop at the coffee shop because it was so slow and the battery died before I could even read my mail.  I sat quietly and took ten deep breaths, but the rage only grew.  So, I went home to practice my accompaniments once more before loading up my stuff for the trip to the church.  My hands were shaking.  I fumbled over the notes in ways I've never imagined before.  How could I have stayed up practicing these pieces every night for weeks only to perform them as though I'd never seen them before?

Perhaps it was because I really wanted not to let my students down.  Maybe it was pride because I knew some potential clients were going to attend, and I wanted to at least appear like I was perfect.  Maybe it was the four hours I spent assembling the program, the half hour of copying and folding, the 200 snickerdoodles, chocolate chip cookies, rice krispy treats, and peanut butter bars I stayed up past midnight making.  And then I'd gone over the order, making sure I had all the music paperclipped and ready to go.  The Corelli was last, and I still didn't know if we'd make it through.

Do all violin teachers accompany their own students?  Maybe I'd do better to hire an accompanist and caterer next time.  I didn't budget for it this time, but George works wonders.  He was there to transport food and set up the reception while the recital was underway.  Plus, his fresh salsa is insane.

I admit, I had too much on my plate, but I really wanted this to be a classy recital, and it needed to be something special to stand out in the community: I wanted to show people how it's done.  But then I forgot one of the method books and had to play from memory. (Luckily, it was real simple.)  --and I forgot to give Katharine a count-off to start her piece.  --and my violin went sharp for Jaycie's piece.  As I watched my students forgetting their repeats and suffering from memory lapses, I wondered if perhaps I was rubbing off on them. 

On the other hand, maybe this is the way recitals always go.  I had some show-stopping performances when I was a kid, but I also remember plenty of stage-fright moments, where my fingers became possessed and ran off to some other dimension.  Those things are normal and they happen to everyone.  I remember that one time my brother couldn't remember the second ending of his piano piece and kept taking the first ending over and over, like a plane in a holding pattern.  Conceding in despair, he slammed his arms on the keys and ran off the stage crying.  That was a recital to remember...  Luckily, no one did that today. 

My old piano teacher always used to say before any performance or competition, "Hot fudge sundae no matter what!"  She always made my parents promise to treat us whether we did good or bad.  It was her way of saying, "Bravo, you performed, you made it!"  She was wise in understanding that we are far too hard on ourselves when it comes to musical performances.

The Corelli was up.  I forgot to cue the beginning the way I'd last rehearsed it, but somehow we all started together anyway.  And what do you know, we all ended together, too, with a bright Piccardy third!

"Your recital seemed to be an entire notch higher than last year's!" remarked one of the fathers afterward.  Well, of course, they are all a year further down the road.  That's the fun about progress.  Recital jitters are just a normal part of the game, especially if performances aren't included in the diet regimen year round.  But we have progress!  Undeniable progress.  Yeah, I'm proud of 'em.

It wasn't until I sat down with my mint Oreo blizzard at Dairy Queen that it really clicked: hot fudge sundae no matter what.  We are better for it.  We made it.  Shake off the guilt and remorse and enjoy your progress!

From Tom Holzman
Posted on May 23, 2011 at 12:56 PM

Looks like a great program.  Glad the recital went so well.  I remember messing up in recitals when I was a kid (heck, I remember messing up a couple of places in my orch's concert a week ago).  Hot fudge sundaes reflect that the the participants gave it their best, not that they played perfectly.   That is what will impress people.  Hope next year is even better!

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on May 23, 2011 at 1:10 PM

Hi, bravo to you Emily!!  Really happy for you!

Except for prodigies, most normal people all remember having messed up at many recitals and concerts.  And that may not be for nothing... Hilary Hahn and numerous others said, there is just one way to get used to the stage, to often do some.   Most normal amateurs and students sadly don't perform ennough for it to become natural. 

Remember your mom or anyone who told you you should play in old folks homes and hospitals to practice yourself and you just found any excuses such as "I don't have repertoire for that type of audience" or "I'm way too old for that"...  Or your teacher who told you should invite the neighbours for coockies and coffee home to play your program and you told "but I don't know my neighbours..."  (I assume many students got told similar things?) Well, perhaps they were kind of right when they told me this and later on, I'll seriously have to consider to do such things to gain experience...  Even if I have to adapt repertoire or whatever, it's still public playing and adrenaline management!  (that can hopefully transfer to formal recitals) 

Ideally teachers should have monthly recitals in their houses or wherever with parents and friends of pupils.  They should also make ensembles with their students.  That way, a positive recital mood would progressivly be built and the students would learn to be better performers.  But I know that many teacher simply can't or don't want to give as much as their time. (because it requires that type of devotion that any ammount of money will never be ennough to really pay what it worths) 

But a recital "à la Emily" is something quite rare nowadays...  I don't know many teachers who would do homemade sweets for their students, snacks at the recital, accompaniments themselves etc!  So Bravo again : )

From Laurie Niles
Posted on May 23, 2011 at 5:15 PM

 How funny, my studio recital was yesterday, too, and I confess to having the same feeling of stress all day long. But as always, it was a celebration of everyone's progress. I have discovered the reception "potluck" concept; parents each bring a dish for the reception! It's a huge help to me, and I think they all enjoy pitching in. Of course, your reception food sounds awesome!

From Smiley Hsu
Posted on May 23, 2011 at 7:21 PM

Congrats Emily.  You've got a lot of heart.  Thanks for sharing it with us.

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on May 23, 2011 at 9:08 PM

What riches!  Three blogs in three days.  My daughter's piano recital was last weekend and her teacher really knocked herself out.  Better to get worked up about something great than about something mediocre (what I remember my childhood recitals to be).  I can see that accompanying each of  your students sounds like a lot of work, but I can't see a way around it.  My daughter's teacher stood beside each student as they played and gave them a quick hug at the end.  It was so warm.  At one point she even placed a students hand on the keyboard when she saw that he was about to play a wrong chord.  (I'd like to see a violin teacher do that!)

Where was Corelli on the program?  Did you leave out a second page?

My daughter's recital also had a potluck (dessert).  It made sense to me.

From Lisa Van Sickle
Posted on May 23, 2011 at 11:09 PM

You do go above and beyond, Emily.  As a parent, I always have to take food to recitals.

Your story about your brother reminds me of a great kindness I once saw at a recital here.  The accompanist involved is legendary for not letting the most confused and nervous kid lose him.  This time, a young soul was playing a piece with repeats, similar sections, a DC, total labyrinth.  The poor kid got completely, hopelessly lost, circling through all the possibilities but not finding his way out.  Finally, at the end of yet another section, the accompanist played a chord that gave no doubt:  THIS WAS WHERE THE PIECE ENDED.  Hot fudge sundaes for both the kid and the pianist, I'd say.

I hope all your kiddos played well.

From Bonny Buckley
Posted on May 24, 2011 at 1:08 AM

How about a month before the recital, when you're notifying everyone, include a list of things that have to get done and a parent/guardian for each kid can sign up for something?  Cookies, check. Brownies, check. Cake, check.  Stage hands, check. Beverages, check.  Fresh flowers bouquet...check.  Cups/plates/etc, get the idea!  That way you can focus on the students and the music. I am all for having someone else accompany as well.  Perhaps there is a college piano major who would welcome the experience, or a community member who enjoys accompanying?  I only accompany occasionally but mostly I have students do it!  I do believe that our energy affects the students in a big way.  So it is really important to have our energy ready for them. It's taken me some years and many concerts to realize I can't do it all and in fact the students who are involved in helping actually are even more connected and enjoy it that much more! I felt extremely rewarded after our most recent concert Friday night when some other teachers and parents came up to tell me what a fantastic show it was.  Congrats on your program & best wishes for the next one!

From Nathan Kroptavich
Posted on May 24, 2011 at 2:18 AM

Congratulations on what sounds like a wonderful recital.  Your students are blessed to have a dedicated teacher like you.  The hot fudge sundae comment reminds me of my Mom and Dad taking me and my brother out for ice cream or whatever we wanted after a concert.  Now that I'm a teacher, they still take me out.  They have never missed a concert since the 4th grade!  

From Corey Worley
Posted on May 24, 2011 at 3:20 AM

 This just brought that warm-fuzzy feeling to me. What a great story :) 
I'll live by that concept from now on! :)

From Emily Grossman
Posted on May 24, 2011 at 7:13 AM

Quite honestly, I could make the reception a potluck, but I like to make goodies, and I like to treat my students.  And of course, I've always been a show-off and a control freak.  Ego makes it difficult to ask for help sometimes.  So I deserve my stress, I guess. 

I've handed over the accompanying on a piece once because I fell ill, and it was nice to sit back and watch my student come to life on the stage.  That was a proud moment, for sure.  But I really like accompanying.  I want to get better at it so I can maybe take a few gigs when I need the cash.  Accompanying is a separate skill which needs its own practice and experience.

From Elaine Yong
Posted on May 24, 2011 at 11:38 AM

 That was a really interested blog, Emily! Thanks for sharing!

I have a recital in two weeks. A hot fudge sundae does sound like a good plan after a nerve racking performance. Especially in this cold weather. Thanks for the (yummy) idea! :)

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on May 24, 2011 at 2:53 PM

"Now that I'm a teacher, they still take me out.  They have never missed a concert since the 4th grade! "

Wow, Nathan you have great parents!  ; )  

They seem to understand how challenging it is to perform (and challenging... not just for kids by the way!) 


I actually also eat "good stuff" before the concert.  I am a desperate cold hands case and I discovered that eating whatever I want on a concert day (or whatever performance) helps to warm up the hands.  Luckily, I don't perform every day otherwise... l would have to find another trick lol  

From Emily Grossman
Posted on May 25, 2011 at 8:07 AM

Thermogenic response to food intake is a pretty warming experience, for sure.  Certainly, if an increase in energy is what it takes to warm your hands, then a pre-performance feast is just the thing for you!  I saved my feast for after the show and used it the next day on my long run.  Worked like a charm--didn't need any energy gel and never hit the wall in 2 1/2 hours of running.  Yay for Dairy Queen!

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on May 26, 2011 at 12:10 AM

Yes that's so true, the next day you don't even feel hungry and are full of energy!  So occasionnally, it's a good thing if it helps.  And part of that energy is also the high from the concert that usually lasts a few days (if everything went well)!

From Smiley Hsu
Posted on May 26, 2011 at 6:03 PM

No wonder I'm not gaining any muscle.  I've been eating my homemade protein bars after my grueling workouts.  Maybe I should visit Dairy Queen instead :-)

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on May 26, 2011 at 7:54 PM

Well, if you don't perform everyday Smiley, why not? ; ) 

From Emily Grossman
Posted on May 27, 2011 at 8:28 AM

Before, Smiley, before.  Choose your post workout meal with optimal recovery in mind.  Eat your Dairy Queen the night before.  Works like a charm.

From Charlie Gibbs
Posted on May 27, 2011 at 5:49 PM

Nice program.  I especially like the way you have two students sharing the Kuchler Concertino.  Now it's back to polishing up Mollenhauer's Infant Paganini for my first recital, coming up in a week.  I hope I don't get the jitters.  Thanks for the hot fudge tip!

From Emily Grossman
Posted on May 27, 2011 at 10:26 PM

Thanks Charlie!  The girls were perfectly matched for the piece, and I was glad to be able to have the entire concerto on the program.  Both did such a great job technically, and this way their individuality really stood out.  Good luck with your performance!

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