Is it recital season for you too? April and May are prime time for studio and other end-of-year recitals and I’m gearing up for my own studio recital in a few weeks. It seems like some great cosmic joke that studio recitals occur when my students are most bogged down with schoolwork and counting down the days until summer vacation. But while this time of the year is always busy, I have figured out a few ways to make the recital go smoother.
Insist on 100% Participation
When I get a new studio family, I make sure they know that all my students participate in our studio recital, regardless of age or level. The wording I use is that “all students are expected and encouraged to perform in the studio recital”. I used to worry that I was being too pushy with my families, but then I realized that other activities such as school orchestra, sports, or dance classes have similar attendance requirements at important events, so why not music lessons? If a family has a reasonable conflict, I try to provide another performance opportunity, perhaps on an all-school recital, or on a colleague’s recital. For some family members, the recital is their only window into the value of private lessons so at a practical level, recital participation can dramatically improve student retention.
Barring uncontrollable circumstances such as a venue change, I have my studio recital date and dress rehearsal date set at least three months out. Because I offer a studio recital in both the Fall and Spring terms, I like to get both dates set at the beginning of the school year. For many families, school and other activities tend to fill up during April and May, so I find that I will have maximum participation if the recital date gets on the calendar early in the year. Planning far ahead of time also helps me to avoid possible conflicts, such as Solo/Ensemble Festival or All-Suburban/All-State auditions or concerts.
My studio emails have a semester schedule in the sidebar which includes the recital date. About a month before the recital date, I send out a separate email reminder about the recital and I hand out a paper reminder “for the fridge”. The paper reminder is especially important for my families who aren’t reliable with email correspondence.
Select Appropriate Repertoire
I think it’s important to have a set policy on what constitutes a polished recital piece. Some students (or parents!) always want to play the most recent piece, regardless of its performance readiness. Some teachers insist that the performance piece be two pieces earlier than the current working piece in the book (for example, a student working on piece no. 12 in the book would perform piece no. 10). My personal rule is that the piece must be polished and memorized, with stable correct bowings and fingerings at least four weeks before the recital. I want each student to feel confident and able to make music at the recital, and show their very best playing level at the recital. For parents who want their child to push through the repertoire faster, having a clear policy that applies equally to all students is a way for me to stay true to my teaching philosophy.
Introduce the Piano Part Early
As soon as a student is comfortable with the notes to the piece, I will take out this book (similar book for violin here) and play the duet part with them. If the student has been listening to the CD daily, this usually isn’t too much of a shock, but playing with the bass line or simplified accompaniment may illuminate some rhythm or pitch details I will then help to correct before the performance. My personal piano skills are *ahem* minimal, but even playing a bass line or simplified accompaniment part is helpful for students ahead of the rehearsal with our recital pianist.
Schedule a Dress Rehearsal
My dress rehearsal is always the day before the recital, so students are rested on the day of the recital. For a studio of roughly 30 students in Books 1-6, I will book around 3 hours for a dress rehearsal with the pianist. With my current studio, I’m able to block between 3 and 6 students per half hour, based on length of piece. I prefer setting a block schedule where several students arrive at once, rather than assigning individual rehearsal times, as it keeps things moving and minimizes interruptions.
To stay on top of things at the rehearsal, I have a copy of the schedule which includes the student’s name, piece (and book, if applicable), and parent contact info in case I need to get a hold of someone. I provide our recital pianist with their own copy in case they want to make notes. In the past, if I have had pianists not familiar with the Suzuki books, I simply copied all the pieces and put them in a binder in concert order to avoid stressful flipping. The pianists I have worked with said they appreciated it and we all know how important it is to have a great pianist in your corner.
Organization on Recital Day
Have a good, professional-looking program with correct name and piece spellings. There are many templates for recital programs online, such as these nice ones from Melody Payne. If using word to make your programs, I recommend making two columns, one for the student’s name and piece, and another for the composer, so you don’t have to keep pressing the tab button.
With the exception of students who don’t want to leave their parent’s side, I have my students sit in the front row by the stage, in performance order. I give parents an arrival time of 30 minutes before the recital, to allow both for tuning and seating. For my large studio, it helps if I check off students as they arrive and are seated, so I know if anyone is missing.
Expect the Unexpected
Anyone who works with children knows that things rarely go according to plan, and that’s OK. The important thing is to have a contingency plan. I know what my plan is if a student who arrives after the concert has begun, if a student has a major memory slip or meltdown, or if a student who is talking while someone else is playing. Even if (when) things don’t go according to plan, I know what I can do to get the recital back on track
Relax and Enjoy!
While in the midst of all the cat-herding, it’s important to sit back and enjoy my students’ playing. The recital is the culmination of hours of lesson instruction and practice, and it is important for teachers and parents to take stock and appreciate our students’ progress and the gift of music that they are able to share with others. Recitals are a celebration of music and learning, and should be a joyful experience. It also helps to have a potluck reception (I bring the paper plates and napkins) so families can mingle and exchange congratulations after the recital. For nervous students, I really play up the reception. Who doesn’t like a cupcake for a job well done?
What are some of your tips and tricks for handling recital planning?