Rethinking the Recital

piano-concert-bannerAs a piano teacher I have had the unique opportunity to participate in recitals and performances from two very different vantage points.

One of my vantage points is that of a piano and violin student. In the past, I would go to lessons, practice hard, and sometimes memorize the piece my teacher had assigned. Throughout the preparation process I would think of the upcoming performance with varying amounts of dread. Will I be prepared? Will I mess up? What will my teacher think?

Now, as a piano teacher, I want my students to feel confident about their performances. I don’t want them to have irrational fears of what I (or the other students) will think. Teaching them how to perform has opened my eyes about how warped my perception of recitals was. I have learned that recital audience is not there to judge me, and they do not expect me to play perfectly. But how can I communicate this to my students without ruining the novelty of recitals?

Last winter I thought hard about this question. I didn’t want my students to be scared of recitals, but at the same time I wanted them to understand that performing was important and there should be an element of excitement. So I decided to “rethink the recital.” I planned a piano recital that involved games, food, and also a performance. I hoped that my students would look forward to this party/recital hybrid instead of dreading it. Maybe if they were comfortable being around each other, they would feel less self-conscious. And they would get a glimpse of the preparation and emotions that go into a real-deal piano recital.

So I told my students that we were going to have a Christmas recital and to mentally prepare for performing. I emphasized that recitals or performances were not something to stay up all night stressing about, but to practice for. Besides, my rethought recital was going to be more fun than nerve-wracking. Some of my students accepted the idea of performing in a recital without batting an eye, while others dramatically jumped off the bench and yelled “NOOO!!” But in the weeks leading up to the performance they all learned how to prepare for a recital and discovered that perhaps performing isn’t as scary as it may have seemed at first.

The big day finally arrived. I surprised myself by feeling a different kind of stress than I normally do before recitals. I worried that maybe I had softened this recital too much and that my students wouldn’t come away feeling like they had accomplished something difficult. So I took my own advice and relaxed a bit. I made snacks and games and mentally prepared for the group of kids that would soon be arriving.

By dinnertime my little group sat around the dining table, laughing and talking. They gobbled up cookies and played music themed games. It was fun to watch them relax and warm up to each other before the recital. When their parents arrived and it was time to perform, I gave them a quick pep talk. I told them that no matter what happened I was proud of them for practicing hard. I reiterated that a few mess-ups doesn’t equal failure and that the audience wasn’t there to judge.

All my students impressed me with their playing. I could tell that they weren’t overly stressed, yet they cared about how the performance went. As they left after the recital I thanked them for doing a great job and working so hard at the piano. I meant what I said to them, I really was proud! After everyone was gone I replayed the night’s events in my mind and decided that the rethought recital had been a success. (Yay!) I’m still deciding if I will put on another rethought recital. Who knows? Perhaps my students are ready for more of a challenge this time.

What do you think about my rethought recital? I’m always looking for feedback and ideas for my studio.

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