Teaching Music: Stage Recitals

In the previous Teaching Guitar article, I related the importance of defining clear objectives. The progressive attainment of goals gives your student a measurable rate of success, and validates their decision to spend money and time on lessons. One excellent way to incentivize your students to practice is to schedule regular recitals.

There are two types of recitals; let’s call them public recitals and performance workshops. Public recitals are full-blown concerts, open to the public. Performance workshops are a chance for your students to showcase their current work to each other, and learn from each other’s struggles.

Here are just a few advantages to hosting a public recital:

    • You are reinforcing your image of legitimacy in the eyes of your students and parents. By going beyond inviting students into your lesson studio and organizing a major event off-site, you show that you are serious about what you do.
    • You are putting a firm deadline on your students’ projects. Not only are they preparing tunes, they’re preparing them by a specific date, and they know they’ll be under scrutiny on that day.
    • You are putting a face on progress. Not only are your students learning progressively more difficult material, they will have printed programs, video footage, etc. of their past achievements.
    • You are advertising! Your recitals are community events. Family and friends in the audience who might know someone interested in lessons will be previewing the results of your service. You also may be forming alliances with local venues and organizations.
    • Your students aren’t the only ones under the gun. Recitals test your ability to manage your students’ progress and organize public events.

To stage the recital, you’ll need a venue. School auditoriums,lodge meeting halls and community centers are possible choices are likely to not cost anything. If you begin with an empty hall, however, you’ll have to fill the seats through an aggressive invitation campaign — sending letters home, emailing students’ families, and encouraging your students to spread the word. Local news outlets may allow you to submit a press release announcing the event. Another option is to work with retirement homes, schools, malls, or parks to stage the recital where there is a built-in audience. In the case of retirement homes and schools, you are performing a service, so both your studio and the community benefit. Malls and parks often host craft fairs or holiday events, and don’t mind providing a space for martial arts demonstrations, school choir performances, fashion shows, and so on. Contact mall management or your local parks and rec department. One possible problem with these venues is background noise — secure a small PA system, just in case. Also, in parks you must be concerned about weather. Band shells and tents are ideal.

After securing the venue and setting a date, you need to select repertoire. Work with each student to select something you know they are able to prepare in time with some effort. One or two pieces are okay, more than two are overkill. The best pieces sound good as solos. If a student’s main focus is the rhythm part to a metal tune, it might not sound recital-worthy when taken out of context. Some tunes, like jazz or folk songs, make excellent duets. You can create a quick arrangement which has student and teacher taking turns playing the lead voice and accompaniment. If you can coordinate two students in preparing a duet, even better. Those students who aren’t able to prepare anything beyond a simple rhythm part could play along with the original recording; or you can help him assemble a band. The latter option, however, can be difficult to pull off, especially with a deadline. Make your students’ recital pieces the central focus of their lessons during the weeks leading up to the event, and put them through a few dry-runs. During a dry-run, everything is rehearsed as performed, complete with the entrance and bow at the beginning. Error correction takes a back seat to simply getting through the performance.

By the day of the show, you’ll need printed programs. They should include all your students’ names, the names of the pieces they’ll be performing, a note of thanks to the providers of the venue and anyone else who helped make the show possible, and your contact information. Also, secure refreshments. You can bring your own, or have parents send some.

Dress up for the show. If you’re comfortable in a tie (or dress, ladies), go for it; but don’t do anything that seems unnatural. If your students are all rock stars, perhaps something more appropriate might be your cleanest stage attire. A black tee and blazer with fashionable jeans, for example — something a rocker might wear to a press conference. Most of us would fall somewhere in-between. During the summer, I’ll wear a breezy collared shirt with khakis; during the winter, a v-neck and corduroys. The message is “I care enough to look good, but I’m not going to a job interview.”

Introduce the show briefly and enthusiastically. Thank everyone for coming. Congratulate the students on a fine season. Encourage picture taking, but urge that flashes be turned off. Remind the audience that refreshments are available. Thank the hosts. Plug your website. That’s it. 80 percent of those in attendance are probably in a hurry to get things moving, so oblige them. After each performance, lead the applause from offstage.

I’m sure none of these suggestions are new to piano and band teachers, but guitar instructors don’t seem to offer public recitals as often. Do so, and you’re a step above most teachers in your area. If you have suggestions, leave a comment.

In my next post, I’ll describe your second recital option — the performance workshop.

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