I frequently see teachers ask on piano teacher forums “do you perform in your studio recitals?” This is often followed by, “do you play at the beginning or the end?” and “what kind of piece do you play?” When I was growing up I never saw my teachers perform, besides playing the teacher duets with students. But, I have gotten in the habit of performing on my studio recitals a couple of times a year. Why do I do this? Aren’t recitals already stressful enough without performing myself? Yes, but there are so many benefits of performing!
Why should I play on my studio recitals?
- It builds rapport with your students. You can tell them that you are also practicing for the recital, and share that you also get nervous about performing. This can help your students to feel more connected to you as you prepare and perform for recitals.
- It builds credibility with your parents. Parents can see for themselves that you know what you are talking about when you teach! It shouldn’t be surprising to parents that piano teachers can play well, but I find they often they are surprised. Our job is to show piano parents that we are skilled pianists capable of guiding their children to become skilled pianists as well.
- Students needs to see high-quality live performances on their instruments. Realistically, most of our students are not attending piano concerts at your local performance venues. Our city has a great piano atmosphere and offers free “Cliburn in the Community” piano performances frequently, but few of my students take advantage of this. You may be the only live performance your students see! Plus, we have to combat the poor technique they may be seeing as they browse YouTube. You have a captive audience at your recitals, take advantage of it.
- Family members enjoy seeing you play. I get compliments from parents, grandparents, and others every time I play on my studio recitals. They tell me how much they enjoyed hearing me play. When I don’t play, I hear how much they missed hearing me.
- It gives you a reason to practice. I hear often that piano teachers struggle to find the time or motivation to practice themselves. When I began teaching full-time after grad school, it was the first time in 15+ years that I didn’t have weekly lessons to prepare for. I enjoyed the freedom to be able to play whatever I wanted without the stress of preparing for degree recitals. But, I also missed the structure of having deadline by which to learn new pieces. I’ve found that scheduling occasional performances for myself gives me the extra nudge to practice regularly. We expect our students to practice regularly, shouldn’t we do the same ourselves?
Hopefully I’ve convinced you that it’s worth it to perform on your studio recitals. The next question is…
What should I play on my studio recitals?
- Learn a duet, trio, or larger ensemble if you share recitals with other teachers. I currently teach at a multi-teacher studio. I’ve really enjoyed learning collaborative music to play for our recitals. We’ve performed an 8-hands piece, Perpetual Commotion, by Kevin Olson, and duets including Piazzola’s Libertango, Anderson and Roe’s Three Waltzes for Two Pianos, an arrangement of 3 Disney pieces, and many other fun duets. Playing collaboratively is really enjoyable, takes some of the pressure off of you as an individual, and is a good way to involve all of the teachers.
- Choose pieces that are seasonally appropriate. If it’s a Christmas recital, play a nice arrangement of a familiar Christmas tune (for duets, we’ve done this Sleigh Ride Fantasy, and Santa’s Wild Ride). If it’s a Halloween recital play something spooky. Spring recitals are open game for any type of piece.
- Choose something that will appeal to your audience. Find pieces that your students and parents are likely to enjoy. I find that families enjoy Latin-sounding pieces, arrangements of any melodies they know (Disney songs, movie music, pop hits) or shorter classical pieces. And on that note…
- Choose a piece that is not too long. Do not play a full Beethoven Sonata! Preferably choose a piece under ten minutes in length, closer to five. Audiences have short attention spans, and recitals can run long already. Length is an important consideration when you choose what to play.
- Choose something you can play well, but is not too simple. You don’t want this to be the hardest piece you’ve ever played. You will have a lot of other things on your mind (“Did I buy enough cookies? Why isn’t Jimmy here yet? Did Emma practice since our last lesson?). This doesn’t have to be a degree recital quality piece, because you want to be able to perform it well under less than ideal circumstances. But, you do want it to be impressive. Remember points 2 and 3 above? You won’t build much credibility or impress your students if your piece seems like something they could easily play. Find a balance between too challenging and too easy that will impress your students without causing yourself undue stress.
Once you’ve decided you will perform and chosen and prepared a piece, the final consideration is…
When should I play in my studio recital?
There are two obvious choices:
- Play at the beginning. You can get the recital off to a great start. Break the ice and be the first performer. An advantage of this is that your piece will probably be longer than most of your students’ pieces. If you add it to the end parents may be ready to go and wish you weren’t still playing. It’s also nice to get your performance done first. This way your mind is clear to focus on what your students need from you during the recital.
- Play at the end. This can be a valid option as well. If you don’t have a strong performer who can end with a showstopper, it might be best to do so yourself
I’ve performed at both the beginning and end of the program and both work fine. It just depends on the rest of the program and how I feel it will flow best. I’ve never performed in the middle of the program, but that could be interesting. Let me know if you’ve tried it!
Lastly, for your viewing pleasure, here is a video our photographer took of the 8-hands piano piece, Perpetual Commotion, last spring :).
Spring Seals, NCTM, teaches 60 piano students ranging from age 3 to 70 in Fort Worth, Texas. She also serves as the Director of Certification for TMTA. She is passionate about helping teachers become more effective in their studios through professional development, new resources, and fresh ideas.