Wednesday, November 13, 2019 by William Suit | Recital
I grew up singing in public. It was in a small town setting, but nonetheless, my fear of getting in front of total strangers and singing was squashed long before first grade. I remember being asked to sing a solo twice in a school production between the ages of 6 and 8 years old, even though the program mostly included older children. So, I never really felt the terror that some of my students do about public performance. I don't suppose I was really allowed that emotion with performance. (That's not to say I've never been afraid to perform in public, but it was just so rare.)
A few years ago a father approached me about his son. His son was scheduled to begin lessons soon and the dad wanted to inform me of the deal he'd made with his son. He had promised his son that he would not have to play in a recital if he would agree to resume piano lessons with a new teacher. Apparently the child had gone through a horrific experience of last minute stage fright with a previous teacher and the stigma surrounding the occurrence had traumatized him. I listened and learned. When his son entered my studio, there was no mention by me of a recital when we discussed upcoming events.
I must admit that this event changed my approach to teaching. While I had never ever embarrassed or pressured anyone into public performance, I certainly had geared my programs around it historically. It is, after all, great to have a clearly defined goal toward which students are working. The recital is the apex of most musicians accomplishments! Yet, here was clearly a student in my care who was talented and progressing, but without the promise or goal of a public performance.
Within a few months I had another student go from a beaming, enthusiastic mood to a look of sheer terror at her first lesson when I complimented a song she'd played and suggested she play it at recital. She literally shrank back and became sullen. Fortunately, her mom was nearby and quickly explained that she had been a part of a "traumatic" recital event where she froze at the last moment and then could not play. I quickly reassured her that she would not have to play in recital as she warmed back up to me.
In the arts we often lose students who would probably benefit greatly from participation in music lessons. Why? It is because we force them into a mold of expected "norms" of growth and performance. In the process, we stave off creativity and maybe the advancement of the very thing we think we're perpetuating - future musicians.
No real progress in the development of a new genre ever happened because a composer or musician followed all of the norms. Point to any figure who stands out as an implement of change and I'll show you someone who was not afraid to get away from the expected to try a new approach. Maybe the word "recital" has become a hinderance to such change.
With that consideration, I decided a few years ago to remove the word formally from my references and name it something fun. I change the word from time to time. Recently I took on a couple of students who are so musical and are progressing very well. Both of them looked at me with that familiar look recently when I mentioned the upcoming musical program. They didn't hear the word recital, but it was a public performance. So, I immediately assured them that they didn't need to participate, but I added something new this round. A few of their friends were participating. So, I said, "Why don't you come and listen to them? They would love to see you there supporting them!"
You know what, they came. I made it clear to everyone attending that this was our opportunity to listen to each other's music and, that if anyone who wasn't on the program wanted to share their music, all they had to do was whisper in my ear and I'd include them. They did! We had a wonderful time sharing our music and I'm hopeful that those students will find they belong there at the piano sharing their talents along with their friends at the next one.
Either way, my responsibility is to nurture and grow the musicianship and appreciation in these students. That means breaking with my comfort zones and "norms" to lead them to a place where they are comfortable. In the end, the arts win! The students win! The teachers win! Everyone wins, because we're expressing ourselves through the creative and ever-changing art of music.