Recitals – From a Teacher’s Perspective

Recitals are the perfect opportunity for a student to perform in front a friendly, live audience. It’s different from a competition or audition situation. Recitals are not usually judged or graded, and yet the nerves still exist. It’s an excellent environment to try out a piece that may be used for a later audition or competition. I can recall as a student being terrified of recitals my entire life. I always felt like I was being judged by the audience, even when I wasn’t. That’s part of the young, developing mind – the focus is on yourself, and not really thinking about the supportive parents or the teacher. It’s not until you start to mature that you begin to realize that the parents and teachers are nervous FOR you, as they always want you to do your best. I guess I never realized what my teachers were going through. At least, until I became a teacher.

As a teacher, I quickly learned that a recital is like an iceberg. It’s relatively small on top, with lots of beauty and sparkle, but it’s massive beneath the surface to support the weight and allow it to float gracefully.   Students spend all semester preparing for a recital, but the teachers are preparing along with them. It’s the teacher that helps select pieces for the student, pairing the selections so carefully to the level of the particular student. Sometimes, the teacher spends hours arranging or rearranging a piece of music to fit that student’s abilities. Multiply this time by the number of students, and you will understand that this personal level of attention is a labor of love. Teachers are usually not paid for this preparation time; but we want our students to enjoy playing their instruments and learning new music.

Once the pieces have been selected and arranged, the process of teaching and learning the piece begins. This can take weeks and months to have the selections ready in time. It’s up to the students and parents to make the time to practice EVERY DAY to be ready in time to perform at the recital. The teacher’s job is to make sure that steady progress is made at each lesson, including showing a new technique for that specific piece, or even learning how to play with accompaniment.

During these learning processes, it’s up to the teacher to create the recital itself. A venue must be selected and secured. It should be appropriate for the expected size of the audience and the instruments to be played. Most outdoor venues do not have a real piano, so I usually don’t consider them. I like a real piano, preferably a grand piano. Not only does it look better in photos, it usually sounds better. Many churches will rent out their facilities, for a fee. Other options include school auditoriums and community centers, but many don’t have a real grand piano, and most always require a fee.

Once the venue and date(s) have been secured, it’s up to the teacher to determine how to pay for it. I usually charge a small fee to my students for recitals. This fee is the minimum I need to cover the venue rental fee. As their teacher, I believe it is my responsibility to cover the costs of the gifts, certificates, programs, etc. To me, these are the costs of doing business. Unfortunately, most venue rental fees are so high that I must charge my students to help cover the costs. If the venue is free, I don’t charge any fees to my students for recitals. Other teachers may operate differently from me, and that’s fine, too.

Now, we have a date, location, and students that are preparing their musical selections. I have to now determine what gift I will give each student. It needs to be the same or similar for every student so that there is no jealousy or animosity. As I have students in ages from three to adults, the gift selections are actually quite difficult. One year, I gave everyone tuning forks. In other years, I have given most anything from personalized umbrellas to nail clippers, case tags to pencils with sharpeners. This year, I gave personalized music bags. I usually try to find something useful for everyone. The music bags seemed like a good choice. I had to order the plain bags in advance, then set aside several hours in the evenings to do the personalization myself. Bags were hanging everywhere for days in my house on skirt racks as the paint dried.

Next comes the hard part – creating the program order and printing enough programs for the expected attendees. With over thirty students, I have to account for the fact that I have several students playing the SAME songs (sometimes in different arrangements for their specific level of playing), and I don’t want them to be compared or judged. I also don’t want the audience to get bored with the same song multiple times. I teach multiple instruments, so I try to alternate the instruments being played, as well as the songs. As if this was not hard enough, I have to try to recall that some parents informed me that their child has to be in bed by a certain time, or that they are coming from work and cannot be there till an hour after the recital has begun. I try to work around the schedules, and kindly remind the audience that it is impolite to leave before the recital has concluded. I try to be considerate of the families and parents, but I also think that they should understand how I am juggling my own professional full-time performance schedule along with all thirty-plus families’ schedules just to fit in a recital twice each year.

My students are very important to me. I want them to succeed and play a perfect recital in front a receptive audience. My job as their teacher is not just to teach them to play an instrument, but how to perform and be a good audience member.  It’s also very important for each child to see the other students and their progress. I usually schedule the more advanced students later in the program so that it flows as a progression from beginner to intermediate to advanced. The beginners like to see what is possible if they continue, while the more advanced are gently reminded of their own progress.

When it’s finally the recital date, I make sure I have everything on my checklist: gifts, certificates, graduate gifts (something extra for graduating seniors as this is their last recital), programs, signs, décor, accompaniment music, extra music and books (someone always forgets their music), check for the venue, music stands, camera, special notes on my own program, pencil, tape, personal instrument, extra strings, rosin, bottled water, cash for parking, and a host of many other items. I load my car, leaving at least two hours before the scheduled recital time. I like to be early to set up everything, including moving the piano (if needed.) Oftentimes, families arrive thirty minutes earlier than the start time. I respect that they want to be early, too, and I am always appreciative when they are willing to help with setup. Approximately ten minutes before the start time, I begin tuning the stringed instruments. Many of my students are so young that they don’t know how to properly do it themselves, so I prefer to do this before we begin. My intermediate and advanced students take care of their own tuning, and we tune to the accompanying piano.

When most of the families have arrived, I organize a group photo that I send to the local newspaper for publication. For those that are tardy, they unfortunately miss this opportunity. We then begin the recital. At the conclusion of the recital, I make my final remarks, including special appreciation to the families and the students. I also thank the venue for allowing us to perform there. I then distribute the gifts and certificates, but my favorite part is when I get to hug my students and tell them how proud I am of them and their accomplishments that evening. To me, the reward is when all the hard work and preparation lead to these special moments. Sometimes, parents want photos of me with their children after the recital, and I am happy to oblige. I love it when they share these photos with me, too. I keep them from year to year, and I enjoy watching how each student evolves and grows up with a love of music. It is somewhat different than most school teachers, as my students tend to stay with me for many years.

I have practically adopted every student I have ever taught, and I am just as proud of them as their own parents when they perform. It is an honor and privilege to be invited to help with their children’s education. I know that parents can choose whomever they want as a private instructor, and I am humbled that they choose me. I never forget that. It is the love of what we do as teachers that brings immeasurable rewards, like the hug from a student who just played his/her first or last recital with you. That’s when you know that it is the STUDENTS who have impacted your own life in indescribable ways.