Then, that program is more or less immediately dropped in favor of learning the music for the next recital, this time of twice the amount of repertoire, and in one-third the time (the senior recital). The same scenario ensues, and once that program is given, the student moves on to a graduate program, where the same thing happens again. The music they've just mastered is set aside and all new music is prepared for the next round.
I firmly believe in the necessity of introducing new music to a student after the program has been given. That is not my caveat. What I try to achieve instead, though, is something else entirely: the use of the prepared program repeatedly, in a short time frame, in various locations. I want my students to take their programs on the road.
When I was a student, I always did this; no one recommended it or told me how, I just did it. When I was a junior, I played my program in four places. As a senior, I gave a three-state, five concert tour. In the first year of my MM stretch, I played my program eight times in three states and after the second year, went on a 7-state, 25-concert tour. I never realized that other students in my class were not doing this. No one paid any special attention to it, it was just something that seemed obvious. The gains I made through those experiences were many and life-changing. The wonder is that it took me so long to realize I needed to promote this activity among my students.
The first one was Oberlin student Matthew Hinsley (see upcoming Alumni post). Matt was a superb student, and was well-prepared for his senior recital. But I recommended he try and set up some outside shows immediately before playing it at the Conservatory to "break in" the program. He found places to play through his family and friends in New York, PA and in Ohio, a total of five or six shows. He set them up, at my insistence, immediately prior to his concert at the Conservatory. When he got back from his "tour" and played the program for us in Oberlin, his playing had matured in a way that was nearly unbelievable. He had, apparently, grown into a seasoned professional in one week. His playing suddenly had more confidence, better pacing, more musical security, and he handled the stage like a real pro. It was incredible.
I resolved to do this more often. After a few years, it became the norm more than the exception. Now I encourage every student to take their upcoming recitals on the road. The only ones who really miss out on this experience are the ones without cars, but even they, in some cases, manage by teaming up with a driver.
Students who embrace this challenge come away with a rich cache of experience: they learn how to determine potential performance locations, how to contact them, how to "sell" the idea of the prospective venue hosting them in a performance. They learn how to interact with the various parties involved, whether its the venue owner or manager, the person in charge of marketing and advertising, or the custodial staff in setting up chairs. They learn to plan their concert-days in all the ways performers do, including having the right clothes ready, planning travel to accommodate getting there in time, having good strings on the instrument, printing programs if needed, eating the right food at the right time, etc. They learn how to interact with a variety of audiences, in a variety of sizes, whether its a mixed group, or all kids, or seniors, or just five walk-ins, or a whole room full of music-lovers. They learn how to talk to the audience to create a comfortable atmosphere for the listeners and for themselves. They learn how to pace their programs so they don't fatigue and so the music can breathe. And they get to try out a range of possible interpretations of the pieces, to see what works best, all before real, live audiences. And after they learn all that, they come and play the program at school, for their classmates and family, for the "grade," and discover that, wow, its easy. The results have always been fantastic.
And afterwards, they feel like authentic, can-do pros. They've jumped through the flaming hoop and on the other side, they are stronger, smarter and more confident and ready to move forward. The sense of accomplishment they experience is something to behold. And there are always stories. Like when Alex Dean (see upcoming post on alumni) got to his venue to discover he had to set up the chairs himself. By the time the room was all set and ready, he only had a few minutes left to warm up. So, going to grab his guitar, he realized he'd forgotten it! He had to rush back home, and then back to the venue, starting the concert quite late, and with no warm-up, but the audience waited and it went well anyway...
So, how do they do it, and where do they play?
I encourage the students to contact certain types of potential venues. We do not count background-music style playing, such as restaurant gigs or weddings; those are in a different category. We are looking for the real thing: an attentive audience that sits quietly and gives their full attention. Venues for such an experience include, but aren't limited to:
and of course, any warm-circle contact - these could be places of work of family members, home churches, previous schools attended, etc. and, naturally, house concerts.
One year recently, I had two students in competition to see who could play the most concerts. Jonathan Gangi and Steve Sloan, U. of Akron students at the time, each set up about 12 concerts, played exclusively in libraries. They loved it. Many of the libraries asked them back the following season, with pay. If it were a contest, then the all-time winner was Brendan Evans, who, the summer before his senior year at Oberlin and immediately before his September senior recital, played 25 concerts in some six states. He went on to win prizes numerous competitions.
When the students are staring at the certainty of playing before an actual public, they begin to get serious about practicing. As their teacher, this really interests me! They major in performance. They should see what performing really is, and go out and experience it. Once they do, they want to do more, and that's a result I can live with.