An update on my first student recital

Edited: December 8, 2022, 3:21 PM · Hi all, a few months back, I decided that this year, I would hold my first student recital. Until recently, I've been against them because of my personal experiences when I was young, but for a variety of reasons I decided to change my mind (after 12+ years of teaching without holding a single recital).

I spent a lot of time preparing each student for all aspects of performance, including both musical preparation and psychological preparation. While this felt excessive, I wanted to make sure that each of their experiences would be a good one, since this was the first recital any of them had done.

I also gave my students the choice to participate. It was completely volunteer-based, and roughly 20 students decided to go through with it. A couple of them needed some encouragement. I was very surprised that so many decided to do it, especially considering many were adult beginners, but this once again confirms that my own fears about recitals were a product of my personal experiences, and not universally felt.

I had a pre-performance rehearsal 2 weeks before the actual recital where everyone had a chance to run through their piece with the piano player (my girlfriend), so they knew what that would be like. To do this, I scheduled a 4-hour window on a Sunday where anyone could show up at any time. As a bonus effect, everyone got a chance to play in front of other people because there was always at least 1 person present. This way, they would know how they reacted under some pressure.

For the recital itself, I rented a large church sanctuary with ample seating. I was expecting at least 100 audience members; I encouraged everyone to invite as many people as they wanted. The actual amount of people that showed up was around 130. We ended up having to open the 2nd-tier level to make sure everyone had seating. I wanted this to feel like a performance for people, and not just a typical student recital where only parents are present. There is something really invigorating about hearing a large crowd cheer for you. And man, it was a large crowd (well, relatively).

I had a dress rehearsal about 1.5 hours before the actual recital started. This way, each player could get used to the feeling of being up on stage, and adapt to the acoustics of the building. Unfortunately, we got started later than I wanted due to some students being late, and then the audience started showing up earlier than they were supposed to. Between those two things, we didn't have time to run through everyone before we had to start, but we got through all of the beginners, and only the last few, more advanced players got left out.

All players were allowed to have their music up. I didn't require any memorization. However, stands were placed strategically to allow the audience to see the player.

Almost all of the students chose to do duets with me, which I think gave them a lot more confidence. If memory serves me correctly, I think the only exceptions were Irish Washerwoman, Moon River, Bach Cello Suite Prelude, and Meditation from Thais. O Come Little Children and Go Tell Aunt Rhody would have been "solos" but they both requested that I play the melody with them. I underplayed, so I was really there more as moral support than as a sound source, and I followed this same principle for the duets.

Everything went very, very smoothly. The audience was jovial and the mood didn't feel like a recital. It almost felt like a party combined with performance, though the audience was very well behaved and quiet until the intermission. During our intermission, it became obvious that no one regretted coming, or was waiting to leave. Laughter and excited dialogue filled the building. That was one of my main fears; that we would invite all these people and then they would be bored because it was a student recital. On the contrary, I think it gave everyone a sense of purpose to be there, so that they could participate in the unified sense of encouragement. And many of the audience had never seen any form of live string music, so even hearing beginners was quite novel to them. It was really heart-warming to see both the students and the audience so happy to be part of the same thing.

Due to adequate preparation, everyone played pretty much exactly as they did in lessons. Some played better! There were no major hiccups, which really surprised me.

I sorted players by the difficulty of the piece they played, regardless of age. So the first player was an adult beginner who played O Come Little Children, and the last player was a teen who played Meditation by Thais (she did super well). In between those two, there were kids, teens, and adults. I also had two of my 4-person groups perform (one was an adult beginner quartet, and the other was my intermediate teens quartet). In the teen group, I had been teaching composition, and they played a medley of Zelda themes arranged by one of the players within the group.

After all the students played, I performed the Vitali Chaconne at the end, because I had told students that if they had to perform, then I would also do it. I didn't do my absolute best because I underestimated how tired I would be after 4 hours of playing with students and organizing the event, but I still would call it a success overall. To an uninformed audience, it was probably impressive.

As for the recital itself, I felt like it was a blowout success. My guess is that if I held another recital next year, the audience would be in excess of 200. At that point, I might have to start charging money in order to pay for a larger venue! (I paid all expenses out of my own pocket this time around).

Replies (11)

December 8, 2022, 2:52 PM · Congratulations! I am happy that everything went well!
December 8, 2022, 2:52 PM · Erik: You have written a wonderful narrative of a musical event that is certainly much more difficult to put together and manage and present than it might have been in less stressful times. Bravo.
December 8, 2022, 3:21 PM · That sounds incredible! So glad you and the students had such an amazing experience. We have always paid for our share of expenses - rental of the venue, and accompanist, so that should not be something you shoulder.

Perhaps you can start planning the next recital now, so you have an idea of venue, dates, and what your students can reasonably prepare in that time. IMO, you may want to limit to 10-12 kids (or about 2 hours total) for each recital. Doing it more frequently will give everyone that wants to, a chance to participate.

December 8, 2022, 3:25 PM · I think Sue's suggestion is a good one. But WELL DONE :) I am pleased it went well!
December 8, 2022, 3:39 PM · Nice Erik! It sounds like you put an awful lot of work into it, but that may yield big dividends for the students that had an empowering experience of performing. Hopefully you have a way of doing these kinds of things without burning yourself out.
December 8, 2022, 3:49 PM · So glad to hear it went well! Congratulations!
December 8, 2022, 4:28 PM · Very nice! Congratulations!
December 17, 2022, 10:47 AM · That sounded amazing.
I would suggest a donations box to help cover costs of next year's recital
December 17, 2022, 12:52 PM · Congratulations ??
December 17, 2022, 12:56 PM · Congratulations Bravo
December 21, 2022, 1:37 PM · Thanks everyone! It was indeed an exhausting experience. I had originally intended to put out a donation box, but I wanted to see how it went first. Now that I have faith it's something people can enjoy, perhaps I will put one out next year.

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