Adult Student Recital
Ramona H., Alaska
I’ve appreciated the recent comments and ideas regarding a SM piano party. I’m wondering if any of you have some ideas specifically for older beginning students. I mentioned my plans for a piano “sharing afternoon” to my oldest student last night, and her smile morphed into a look of panic. She told me that she really didn’t want to do something that would make her nervous. When she is nervous, even at her shared lesson, she sometimes makes a lot of mistakes and becomes embarrassed (at other times she plays quite confidently). The rest of her fellow students are very encouraging, but I can tell the thought of sharing her music with strangers and other guests does not delight her.
I’m wondering about how to structure the afternoon so she (and a couple others like her) could/would still participate in some way that would give them a positive experience. I’ve thought about dividing my students by age, and having two separate sharing times – children and older teens/adults – but I think I’d like to have all age groups get a taste of what the others are doing, so would rather keep them together. Also, any tips as to how many students is “too many” for one gathering?
Vonnie L., Oregon
About 2/3 of my students are adults. Last May I had my first recital. Since I had so few students, I knew I couldn’t give my adult students the option of not playing, so I just started early on talking about having a recital. At first I used other terms, trying to avoid stirring up old fears, but students kept referring to it as a “recital” so I started calling it that too. I spoke about what a tremendous opportunity it is to build confidence and share what you have been learning, the chance to really polish a few pieces. I let everyone choose what they would play, telling them that there would be quite a bit of duplication. (Actually, there wasn’t as much as I thought there might be since there were many variations and several original compositions.)
My shyest adult student told me she was looking forward to the chance to overcome her reluctance to be out in front of the public, and she did wonderfully with her proud parents and husband in the audience. Most did just fine, with almost everyone making a mistake here or there. I tried to keep it light by making some jokes beforehand.
I coached them earlier in some anxiety-lowering techniques, such as deep breathing and muscle relaxation, keeping their minds OFF their own performance until they were at the piano, taking their time to get ready at the piano before starting, and staying with the music as they played. We talked about how to walk up to the piano, turn and face the audience, touch the piano and make a slight bow before sitting down, and how to get up, smile and bow before walking off confidently. We talked about how to handle mistakes (play though minor ones with no grimacing, back up to the beginning of a pattern if necessary, or stop–breathe–and start again if necessary. We talked about the fact that even some of the very best professionals struggle with performance anxiety, so it has nothing to do with one’s ability and everything to do with the way one thinks.
At the recital, I talked about how we were all struggling to keep our nerves under control and that everyone had demonstrated to me that they could play their pieces beautifully so their ability to play was not in question and that we were here to celebrate and support each other and should avoid making comparisons.
I had my students (who were all in private lessons) meet each other and perform a piece for each other before the recital. The two who were the most reluctant played duets with me. If you are using a grand piano, it will normally be positioned so that you will be sitting between your student and the audience in a duet, which gives them a “screen.” If they are playing only accompaniments, you can allow them to use their books so they don’t have to worry about forgetting.
My most reluctant student was my own husband. He seemed to think everyone would expect him to play perfectly since he was the teacher’s husband! We ended up doing two duets, Amazing Grace and Watermelon, which is words I made up to go with Honey Dew. I wore a big watermelon hat and sang very operatically, so no one was watching him!
In the end all my students–except one who was actually away on a prearranged vacation with her husband–performed at the recital. I am now planning another one for this May. A couple of my new adult students seem concerned but I told them not to worry, that we will work through things.
It also helps greatly if they can have a chance to practice on the recital piano before the actual performance, so they can know what the instrument and room are like.
Keep talking to your students as if you EXPECT them to participate.
Cindy B., Illinois
I’d make sure that I had ANY adults who are interested in public performance before I made any plans. I’ve completely laid off of my own adults – I’ve heard that the fear of public speaking is nearly as strong, or even stronger, than the fear of death and I blieve it. I’ve actually had one student quit lessons just from my insisting that she record her level one. Privately! Recording is as traumatic as performing, and I don’t think that traumatic is too strong a word. Be very very careful with your adult students. They break easily.
Jy G., California
I do a wine and cheese party – had one so far for the adult students at a home with a nice piano and they loved it. No real structure — just hung around talking at first, then they were all over the piano, sharing arrangements, learning from each other, etc. (some after a glass or two…)
It’s a great simulation of a real-life situation: you’re at a party/gathering of some kind, there’s a piano in the corner – are you gonna play it? It was a great afternooon – second one’s upcoming!
Mary R., Michigan
I have about 25 students-8 of whom are adults. At my last recital all but one
of the adults refused to play (many had “I’ll be washing my socks” type of
excuses) and the one who did only agreed because his daughter is also a student.
For many adults, recitals (no matter what you try to call them) bring up too
many painful memories from childhood or elsewhere of failure or anxiety in a
performance venue. I have half jokingly said that I would have an adults only
party, spouses invited if the student wishes, and serve cheese, crackers and
LOTS of wine before everybody plays. I’m an opera singer so I figured I’d do a
big Carmen aria to get everybody relaxed. Don’t know if it would work, but I’m
game to try anything to give adults a chance to experience the JOY of sharing
a musical gift with others!
Karen T., Illinois
I agree, Mary. For many adults, they do not care to enter that arena at this point in their lives. If they are content to play in their own living rooms, for their own enjoyment or a family member, we have still put the gift of music into the hands of one more person who never thought they would have it. : )
As for helping them “come out”, it takes perhaps a long time to discern which adults might be developed in this area. I have quite a few “sock washers” myself, but they have all come back to lessons at some time along the way very excited at sharing SM songs with a family member. Wonderful! I tell them at the FIS that I am able to give them music as a companion, and SM is not (necessarily) a program to develop concert pianists. They love that!
Carrie L., Michigan
I have found that often adult or older students really dislike times when they have to play for a large group of people.. like for a recital or piano party.
They often just want to play for their own fun and enjoyment.
I have been trying to figure out a way that they can enjoy a Piano Party type experience and some ideas I’ve had are that they could… have a time where they get together and talk about different aspects or music… composers or styles.. and then have someone come in and “inspire” them by playing.. perhaps a jazz pianist or classical pianist or a duet.
Hilary C., Australia
With some trepidation I bit the bullet last year and had a morning tea with my mature-aged Week Day Players ( as we called it). While all were encouraged to play and prepared favourite pieces
none was compelled. As it happened everyone played – there were about 6 students – and all thoroughly enjoyed it and wanted the next one in 6 months time. The reponse surprised us all and students still remark on the event and on other students and now as they pass each other coming in or going out they take time to chat in a way they did not before. I have mentioned an all-aged gig to some and they are not so keen.
I recommend playing for others as long as students feel safe.
Original discussion started March 11, 2005