The student recital: a behind the scenes look

December 19, 2012, 3:36 PM · 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.

Student Preparation

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 19, 2012 at 11:56 PM · I find it's important to have a "dress rehearsal" with the pianist at least a full week before the recital because it motivates the students to do that last-minute push and practice more!

December 20, 2012 at 03:23 AM · Really excellent advice!

December 21, 2012 at 02:27 PM · Excellent blog. Can I just ask who will pay for the venue and accompanist(s)? A friend has had to use a retiring collection which luckily covered all her costs but you never know! How else does one persuade parents to pay? Accompaniment is so expensive.

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