Parents and Piano Recitals

By now my loyal readers should be well ware of my feelings regarding piano recitals. But search tags leading readers to this site, repeatedly show people inquiring about those  recitals.  I’ve had queries about suitable piano pieces, how to prepare for the recitals and several even worrying about what their children should wear to a recital.

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I realize that no matter how repeatedly I explain about the woeful waste of time incurred by requiring students to perfect and memorize one  small piece for less than two minutes stage time, doting parents will still insist on those recitals.  While I have control over this issue in my own studio  … I simply tell parents of prospective students that I do NOT do recitals   …  I have little influence outside that studio.   When parents protest, I simply suggest another teacher and bring the discussion to an end.  But I know that chances are high after two or three recitals their child will begin to whine and complain until the parent allows him to stop his lessons.  And another piano student will have lost a chance to have music  … GOOD music in his life.

I do not do recitals    I DO focus entirely on bringing the joy of music into each of my student’s lives.   And that doesn’t include embarrassing them, stressing them or above all wasting their learning time.

But I also recognize the fact that until more teachers become aware of the waste of time and harm done by those recitals, most of them will follow tradition.  And that means there will be one or two recitals a year.  And that most children will be subjected to them willy nilly.

Even if  a parent doesn’t particularly favor the recitals or is even openly opposed to them, it is difficult to pull your own child off the programme even if the teacher agrees.  With all his friends partipating, no child will want to feel left out.  And no parent wants his child to feel like a pariah either.

So the recitals will go on.  But it is now up to the parent to salvage what can be salvaged from the situation.  Which is to quietly request the teacher not to assign an overly difficult piece for the event and to be sure the child is learning other pieces as well.   Learning new music shouldn’t grind to a halt while all the attention is focussed on that one recital piece.

But even these requests can be ignored by a teacher who wants her class to “show-off”.

If a recital is inevitable  … then there are only a few things the parents CAN and MUST do

1)    Never criticize your child’s performance … Never.   No matter how many notes slip under the piano or how many bars are missed.  Not even if the child flees from the stage.

2)    Never hold up another child as an example  … either positively or negatively.   A very advanced older student can be praised as an incentive.   But please refrain from ANY comments on ANY student of your own child’s age or level.  Ignore the “prodigy” … he gets enough acclaim already.   It’s your own child who needs your support.

3)    Prepare your child  for mistakes before the recital.   Tell a funny story about a time when you flubbed something or suffered a pratfall.   Make light in advance of any looming catastrophe.  Make it clear that a mistake is “no big deal.”

  Note:   There is no other performing art which is so vulnerable to embarrassing and obvious mistakes as playing a musical instrument, with the possible exception of ice skating.   On no other occasion does the performer risk such dramatic failures as a musician  playing a cascade of wrong notes or an ice skater missing a jump and hitting the ice face first.   An entire audience is focused on you  … and then that mistake.  

Terrible public errors have forced fine musicians to flee the stage.  Myra Hess insisted on playing from the music score after a memory failure.  David Helfgott’s tragic withdrawal from the concert stage is documented in the brilliant Australian movie “Shine”  for which Geoffrey Rush received the Academy award for his portrayal of the tortured pianist.   At the height of his performing career, Glenn Gould retreated from the concert stage to take refuge in his recording studio.  

Playing in public is stressful.  Even for seasoned musicians with years of experience and an eager audience waiting in the concert hall. 

4)  No matter how well your child has played or how hopelessly lost he became in a mire of wrong notes, at the end of his performance, applaud him and assure him it was fine and that the wrong notes could hardly be heard.      Then take him out for a treat when the recital is over.

I believe music is one of the most precious and beautiful treasures we can have in our lives  … to make the experience of learning music tense and  competitive is tragic.    If there is no way to avoid those recitals, at the very least be sure you do not add to the child’s discomfort with criticism or comparisons.   Music should never be a competition.

Music should be a joy.  Don’t let recitals, competition, criticism and your own ambition suck the joy out of it for your child.   Give music a chance.

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The Happy Piano Professor

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15 Responses to Parents and Piano Recitals

  1. ShimonZ says:

    can’t say I agree with you here… but we all have different methods of teaching… I don’t believe there is one right way. Just as there are many different styles of teaching, there are many different types of students. And the student has to find the right teacher for him or her… I always wanted my teachers to correct my mistakes, and it would have been insulting for me to hear applause after I performed badly.

  2. nikkitytom says:

    My point was certainly NOT to encourage teachers to overlook errors ….A good teacher never lets errors slide, but knows how to correct them in a way which is encouraging rather than humiliating. This article is concerned with recitals and parents … not learning and teachers.

    Recitals are not only a waste of time, particularly for beginners who will only play a page of less of very simple music …. but they too often become miserable memories for children whose PARENTS put pressure on them and criticize them.

    The message here is for parents. First of all to encourage them not to support recitals. But if they can’t avoid them, then I’ve given ways for them NOT to make those occasions into occasiona of criticism and humiliation. I want my students to love music and to learn. Not participate in silly displays to pander to parents’ egos.

  3. MaV says:

    Thank you tremendously for this article! “Parent Prep” is just as important as the lessons shared with the student because it signficantly influences the student’s ability to be confident, and know that they are valued and worthwhile. Serving as an important foundation for preventing peformance anxiety, parental support that focuses on unconditional validation and love shapes the student’s identity and ability to know and play from their authentic heart. Way to go Nikki!

    • nikkitytom says:

      Thank you so very much for your kind words. I have found that as a teacher, encouragement works magic. Instead of pouncing on a child for missing that F sharp which I already circled in red ink … I’ll say ” Not bad … now see if you’re really smart and can find the missing sharp …” When the child locates the sharp then I’ll praise them for finding it. A simple switch in approach makes all the difference. However, I restrict this technique solely to teaching … on questions of manners, honesty and meanness, I’ll brook no offenses at all.

  4. fireandair says:

    Ignore the “prodigy” … he gets enough acclaim already. It’s your own child who needs your support.

    Acclaim from the adults — bitter hatred and bullying from their peers whose parents and teachers point to the prodigy as something to emulate. By doing so, a parent harms two kids: their own AND the prodigy.

    I always hated performing. I still do. Informal salons with other musicians I can manage. Performing in public, absolutely not. And I’m content to be a composer/arranger now who is able to take more enjoyment from how well I WRITE than in how well I TYPE.

  5. Junai says:

    As a child I always loved to get up on the stage. I loved school programs, and now as a teen piano student I love recitals. I love polishing a piece and memorizing it until I could play it in my sleep, then to get up to the piano, and let my trembling fingers mesmerize the audience. I understand that some children cannot tolerate recitals, but many of the children I have met enjoy a chance to show off their skills, and a recital is just another way to do that.

    • nikkitytom says:

      Oh I loved it too. I was the “star” in those recitals and programs. It was my opportunity to shine and I grabbed it with both hands and a big grin on my face. However while I was fluffing up my dress and making sure my hair was smoothed down, my best friend was in the bathroom throwing up. She hated recitals,.

      Those recitals are a great place to show off your skills. But as a teacher I have to share my knowledge and enthusiasm with all my students, not just the few most talented ones. It’s not easy because even a fair teacher naturally feels more enthusiastic about her best students and puts a little more into their lessons. And it would be nice to show off those students to all the parents as a measure of my teaching skills as well.

      But I can’t ignore the others. If I offer recitals, most parents will insist their child participate.and of course, no one wants to feel left out. The weakest ones will have to put more time into learning and memorizing their pieces too and they are the very ones who need that time to LEARN. So my program doesn’t include recitals.

      There are many occasions outside my classes where those who want to perform can do so. Schools are always delighted when a student can offer a stellar performance for a school concert or talent show. And then I DO encourage them to partricipate IF they want to.

  6. bmbutler says:

    You have given me much to think about after finding you and the Piano Forum. One other tip I would add for parents even though your blog post is several months old. Parents, let your child play what they want to play. I work with my students to choose two pieces to play. Most of all, I want them to want to enjoy what they are playing. Never fails with one family. The child has chosen their pieces and the parents bad mouth (out loud!) how the child should really chose something else because they don’t like one or more of the choices. Child comes back to me in distress over the parent’s pressure. We keep their original choice because they want to play them. Tries me nuts that these parents do this. It is a studio annual recital not Carnegie Hall for pete’s sake!

    (Now to just be able to stop the recital each year!).

    As background, I hold a bachelor and master degrees in music and have over 30 years of experience of working with children through music. I do have a full time non-music job but keep my studio at a manageable size. The majority of my students have been with me for several years. I “shared” on Facebook this posting. There are many teachers in this area who allow horrible habits to develop from day one and parents should ask more questions. Just because you “teach” piano doesn’t mean you are qualified to do so.

    • bmbutler says:

      I really hate spell check. One sentence should begin drives me nuts versus tries.

    • nikkitytom says:

      Oh your coment about parents really resonates. I have had much more difficulty with parents than any student ever gave me. Now I interview the parents before taking on a student. I have turned away prospective students with that first phone call from a pushy parent. Music is such a gift and to destroy that opportunity for a child to experience it is one of the few things I consider a sin.
      Regarding allowing a child to choose his music for a recital . .. you get a big thumbs up from mne! I don’t have recitals but I do allow a child his choice of ANY music he wants … as a bribe. He has to do his regular work first. Then if he wants to play the Pathetique … heck I’ll help him stumble through it. That’s how my first teacher snared and entrapped me into a love of music for life. LOL

  7. Pingback: 25 Tips for Supporting Your Young Musician [Infographic]

  8. Connie Akins says:

    Thank you so much for your comments about recitals and the pressure of performance.Your words have literally brought me to tears – but in a good way. I took years of lessons as a child and teenager and the recitals really harmed me, shut me down from growing like I could have. Now, in my 50’s, I’ve discovered I have a talent for composing. It has given me inexpressible joy to write and play these beautiful pieces of my own creation. But I am STILL terrified to play for others. I have forced myself to do a few concerts and put out a CD but it has been terribly stressful to do so. Now I am working on healing the damage so I can freely share my music, which is what I long to do. Here is one of my songs I’m very proud of:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hgrK21SmfY.
    Thank you so much for providing protection for those promising musicians that being forced to perform in a recital would be just too traumatizing.

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