Convincing a student to play for a recital?

November 2, 2022, 10:04 AM · Is there a good way to convince a student to perform in a recital? I've offered to wave the memorization requirement, let them perform an old piece (or a new one if they're just getting tired of the old rep!), but no budging. It's an older student who's played in recitals in the past, but after a bad experience earlier in the year, no longer wants to perform. They also feel uncomfortable being the one of the oldest students at the event. I think playing in the recital would be extremely beneficial and have told them so (and given all the standard reasons why) but I don't want to seem too pushy. Is it just a lost cause?

Replies (19)

Edited: November 2, 2022, 10:28 AM · Is it a lost cause? I think that's unfortunate language. We forced our older daughter to perform a "senior recital." ("Forced" means a combination of guilting and cajoling and so forth.) She was miserable preparing for it and even more miserable performing it. And yes, the memorization requirement was a big part of that.

And now? Now she's as happy as a clam playing in her university orchestra where she's not under that spotlight. Wherever she lands in the future, I can virtually guarantee one of her first goals will be to find the nearest community orchestra to join. In short, she love playing the violin -- but on her own terms.

If your student has aspirations as a soloist, or aspirations in a violin-related career that can only be reached by demonstrating soloist aptitude (like salaried orchestra jobs), then you've got a hard conversation ahead of you. But if all they want is to be an amateur violinist playing in ensembles then I think you should find rep, pedagogy, and performance opportunities for the student that are in line with those ambitions.

November 2, 2022, 10:57 AM · I am an older student, with zero ambitions to be a soloist, and I, like your student, felt self conscious and out of place playing in recitals with little kids and their parents. My teacher and I solved the problem by playing a duet as the recital piece. Another time, three friends and I played one of the easier movements from a Haydn Quartet. I agree there are benefits from performing and preparing to perform. This compromise worked for us.
November 2, 2022, 12:07 PM · I'm probably the oldest student in my teacher's studio (mid-60s). Students range from Twinkles to teens and pre-teens who play concerti by Mozart and Bruch. My teacher has played duets with me and with some of the other students, who maybe also lack confidence. This is immensely less stressful than playing with piano since we have many run throughs instead of just a single rehearsal. Having these duet experiences is giving me the courage to try a concerto movement for the Spring recital.
November 2, 2022, 12:56 PM · The duet sounds like a nice solution.
Edited: November 2, 2022, 5:09 PM · I never was requested to participate in a student recital during the 8 years of my violin lessons nor the 3 years of cello lessons. Having heard the greatest players in the world on regular radio broadcasts of the NBC Symphony and the Bell Telephone Hour, I would have felt they were competition I would not choose to encounter. (Also, in late 1939, at 5 I had "seen" Heifetz play in the movie "They Shall Have Music" - who would want to compete with that? By the time I was 6 months into my cello studies at age 15 I would accept every performing opportunity that was offered - some for money! (What arrogance!!!)

Our son (who will soon be 58) started piano lessons at age 5. Everything was great and then --- his first recital! He launched into his performance a bit too fast and it all got away from him. He never took another piano lesson.

So, anway, he has had music in his life ever since, trumpet in high school band. Composing music and songs and planing guitar and singing in a couple of performing amateur groups and then professionally for a year after high school, recording engineering school for another year. He has been a performing amateur musician all these years since. He has build a recording studio on his property (an entire building just for that - containing an acoustically isolated studio. etc. etc.).
Of course he can still play piano - on his own terms.
And he took up violin in his 40s that he plays every Friday with a small group of other violinists - sometimes he also plays guitar. He performs in ensembles quite frequently on whatever instrument is called for.

November 2, 2022, 2:04 PM · Gracie,

You need to put numbers on the age of the "Older" student. Is this an adult being asked to play with children or teenagers, or just a visibly older student who isn't an adult?

I started violin at almost 30. My teacher convinced me to play with his other students at a recital. They were years ahead of me in violin skills and it showed as I got laughter being an adult because what I played was very basic. Never Again!

My goal, at that time, was to play soprano/descant lines of hymn tunes in church (back or the congregation not up front). I did not want to be front-and-center playing my violin.

Assuming we are discussing an adult, have you discussed what the adult wants to do musically? If it is an older young musician perhaps it is stage fright. Pushing a person too hard often backfires. Not everyone wants to be front-and-center performing.

When I joined the community orchestra I stayed in the back of the seconds. Why? I liked assisting the young musicians become accustomed to playing in the orchestra and feeling that if it's ok for an adult to sit there, it is ok for them.

FWIW: My day-job was front-and-center as a subject matter expert in Supply Chain for Bell Labs. I'm not afraid of the podium, I just never wanted to play my violin alone in front of an audience. That was almost 50 years ago. I'm retired and I teach financially challenged young people and adults who simply want to play the violin.

November 2, 2022, 2:05 PM · I have mixed feelings about recitals. They can be very good experiences. They are an opportunity for a student to play in public. They put things on a schedule. Students' can hear each other play.

All of this being said, recitals can feel like a pony show. They are not 'real' concerts. They are also fairly infrequent which increases pressure.

If I want a student to become accustomed to performing, I have them perform more frequently than recitals.

As a motivational factor, it works for some, but definitely not for all. Some people put stuff off. It can be highly demotivating to screw up in a recital.

Edited: November 2, 2022, 4:36 PM · It's tough with adults. My recommendation is to simply tell them that if they want to, they can. Maybe suggest it'd be a good experience, but that's about all you can do. Recitals really aren't that beneficial to some people, particularly self-aware adults.

As one adult student put it when I recently brought up the idea: "I don't know how I feel about paying to embarrass myself."

In response to that, I made the recital free.

Pretty much all of my students will be playing at the recital, which surprised me. Maybe it helped that I used a lot of reverse psychology (I swear it wasn't on purpose). I repeatedly told them every week "You REALLY don't have to play if you don't want!" Although the bigger factor is most likely that about half the students will be adults. I could definitely see a lot more hesitation from an adult who will be the only one playing (or one of a few), especially if they're a beginner.

OH! And I completely forgot: I gave everyone the option to prepare duets with me, instead of pure solo pieces. I think that was a huge factor.

Edited: November 2, 2022, 9:39 PM · I like the idea of a duet, but I would also suggest some low-key performances. Set up for them to play at a nursing home, a preschool, a shelter, or some other very appreciative low-key audience. My younger kid has some major performance anxiety and never wants to play, and we have improved it by giving her successful opportunities to play in low stress environments.
Edited: November 3, 2022, 7:51 AM · Gracie has not returned to her thread, but I agree with George that "older" could be better defined. I had in mind a teenager, maybe 15-16 years old, who was playing something in Book 6 and didn't want to have circles run around them by kids half their age.

As for duets, I have never seen my violin teacher perform a duet with any of his students, whether children or adults, and I doubt he would do so, even if asked. I have seen my daughter's cello teacher perform a Suzuki accompaniment for a student on his own cello, but that's not really a duet. When I was a kid I played duets with my teacher all the time.

November 3, 2022, 8:24 AM · My grandson, now 29, works in the music industry composing, making "CDs" and recording. His degree is in music and film. My grandson started piano lessons at age 4 or 5. His teacher held monthly get-togethers with all his young students and they each just played a piece for the group of students. He did the same thing with his adult students. My grandson's father also took lessons from him and participated in that group - in fact he is still taking lessons from that teacher (going on 25 years).

That busy piano teacher was one of my cello students for 5 years, 20 years ago - tough for a left-hander. He maintained a studio of 60 to 70 piano students.

November 3, 2022, 2:59 PM · I studied with a teacher that only had young students but insisted on recitals every month. Worse, you recited the piece at whatever stage it was at - no waiting till it was as good as possible. Actually, that helped because everyone was just trying to be as good as possible, rather than falling into the 'perfection trap'. As I was one of the stronger students with her I actually enjoyed the trip.

How about checking round with other teachers - not necessarily on the violin - to see if they also have older students. Maybe you could make a recital for older starters or something so that they have something in common and less anxiety with being shown up by a kindergarten kid?

November 3, 2022, 3:24 PM · That's interesting, Paul. I wonder why he's opposed to duets. I think it's a great way of elevating a less experienced player's performance, as well as taking the pressure off.

The only recital I remember enjoying was one where I played the telemann viola duet (technically "concerto for two violas") with my then-teacher. In fact, realizing that duets even existed was a huge boost for my interest in music.

For my upcoming recital, I gave each of my students the choice to either 1) play solo 2) play with piano accompaniment or 3) play a duet, most of which also have accompaniment. Almost all of them chose the duet option, with the exception of the more advanced players towards the end.

Another unorthodox thing I'll be doing is performing at the end myself (vitali chaconne). At the end of the day, I feel like I shouldn't ask them to get up there in front of everyone if I'm not willing to do it myself.

November 3, 2022, 6:44 PM · Erik it could be as simple as not wanting to upstage a student. I think he also wants his students to reach out to other students to find duet partners and the like. But I really don't know.
November 3, 2022, 9:55 PM · I completely understand that feeling of when you did bad in a recital earlier in the year and then you don't want to perform for another recital. I think just letting your students know that just one bad recital does not define them as a bad player, and it never means that. Professionals nowadays still make mistakes and it's only human to make mistakes, although we can't always rely on the fact to make mistakes because obviously we need to fix it and find a solution to it. But if the student really does not want to perform this time, maybe given them some space to think and let them skip the recital. Sometimes they just need some time and space to calm themselves down and begin a fresh start so that they can improve their performance skills in the future.
November 4, 2022, 4:24 PM · I have a kid that just did a small piece on a recital and it when better than expected. I played down the significance of the event, had kid do some visualizing of what it would be like up there, and the piece was pretty straightforward (with no accompaniment).
November 4, 2022, 6:08 PM · Paul, is your older daughter missing out on chamber music?
November 5, 2022, 3:14 PM · Sorry for the vagueness about the age, the student is a teenager and is at an intermediate level. It is my understanding that the student doesn't wish to pursue any career or future in music outside of possibly joining their college orchestra for fun, while pursuing a degree outside of music. I was always pushed to do recitals when I was growing up and accepted them as a necessary part of violin training, but in hindsight I realize that is not the case for everyone. Thanks for this added perspective!
Edited: November 5, 2022, 9:41 PM · If you want to make someonena comfortable performer you have to start with small stakes. Small increments in the size of the audience, difficulty of the music, the ensemble, whathaveyou. And of course an atmosphere where mistakes are fun too. Where kids go wrong is with the typical order of events:
nothing-nothing-nothing-nothing-HUGE RECITAL IN FRONT OF 30+ PEOPLE-nothing-nothing...

I was always super stressed by recitals too.

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