I’ve been hosting recitals since before Piano Power existed, when I was a twenty-something independent teacher whose primary focus was not screwing up. (In a way, that hasn’t changed.)
But even then, as now, I’ve always tried to make the recitals a place where it’s okay to “screw up,”
a low-stress venue where effort and celebration are more important than perfection. (And where delicious, post-recital treats are enthusiastically devoured.)
One of my favorite recital stories centers around a student named Sally. While performing she froze up, only making it halfway through her song. Clearly upset, she ran back to her parents. As always our audience was supportive, applauding her effort, but I don’t think anyone expected her to try again.
The recital carried on, and toward the end Sally’s teacher whispered in my ear, “Sally wants to give it another try.” As you can imagine, I happily obliged.
This time Sally played the entire song beautifully. The crowd went nuts. Sally was beaming— not to mention her parents and teacher.
To me, that’s what recitals are all about: preparation, not perfection. And trusting that the audience is on your side and wants to see you succeed. Sally froze up, but because she’d prepared, she knew that she could play the whole song. So she got back on the bench.
I’m a Cubs fanatic, and I often find myself quoting– or in this case paraphrasing– the sage Cubs manager Joe Maddon: Focus on results, and there’s lots of stress. Focus on the process, and there’s none.
So let’s teach our students to prepare as well as they can, to focus on the process, and to understand that they’re going to make mistakes. No one plays at recitals without botching at least one thing— and usually the performer is the only one who notices.
On recital day, remind your student that we show up knowing anything can happen, and we roll with it. This is a life skill that transcends music recitals.
Good luck to all students performing this month!