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.
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.
The Happy Piano Professor