How to Plan a Student or Solo Recital

Photo by Jin Suk

When I was younger, the word “recital” conjured up a distinct memory of only one thing: “Coda,” Episode 7 of Season 2 of The Wonder Years. I love this conversation between Kevin Arnold and his piano teacher, Mrs. Carples:

MRS. CARPLES: Have you thought about what you’d like to play for the recital this year?

KEVIN: I think I’m busy that night.

MRS. CARPLES: I haven’t told you what night yet.

KEVIN: I mean, um . . . I’m probably gonna be busy that night. See, I’m in junior high now,

and there’s a lot of demands for my time.

MRS. CARPLES: Last year’s excuse was much better. Did your uncle ever pull through?

Kevin ends up facing off with his musical arch nemesis, local piano prodigy Ronald Hirschmuller, in Mrs. Carples’ student piano recital. Both boys are playing Canon in D . . . and Kevin absolutely biffs it.

And so, after watching this I came to only one natural conclusion: recitals were created for one (and only one) purpose . . .

. . . Humiliation.

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Fast forward about 15 years to the day I played my very first solo recital. I practiced and practiced for hours every day throughout the summer in preparation for my big showcase. When the day came, I knew it wouldn’t be perfect, but I was unusually excited—and confident—to finally share a talent I’d developed over the course of my lifetime. I performed in an historic lecture hall with elegant balcony seating and soft lighting. I wore a bright yellow blouse and printed my programs on yellow paper to match. I wore a beaded flower pin in my hair. Family, friends, and strangers filled the hall, applauding as my pianist and I took the stage.

And then I performed.

Doesn’t it seem a strange thing to do, to practice hundreds of hours for one 50-minute performance? And it wasn’t even perfect—of course it wasn’t.

But, on the other hand, it was a wonderful, wonderful experience. My first recital turned out to be one of the greatest accomplishments of my life so far—something I’m so proud of. Not only did I feel great about it, but those who came were edified by the performance—even inspired to develop their own talents to share with others.

I left not remembering the mistakes, but the feeling of the instrument in my hands, the applause, the warm hug from my bass professor, the taste of the cinnamon rolls we ate afterwards, and the satisfaction of so many years of lessons and practice finally being brought to fruition.

Recitals aren’t meant to be a chore or just another chance to feel overwhelmed by stage fright. A recital is simply an opportunity to share. Yes, yes, recitals are a lot of work in the sense that they require diligent preparation. But there is nothing that will motivate you more to practice and develop yourself as a musician as an opportunity to perform. And, seriously, what’s the point of practicing in a closet and never performing? Music is meant to be heard.

HOW TO PLAN A RECITAL

There are two main types of recitals: student recitals and solo recitals.

A student recital is a recital organized for multiple performers who are students of the same teacher. A private teacher may have seasonal or annual recitals scheduled for students to perform what they’ve learned in their lessons for parents, friends, family, and other members of the music studio.

A solo recital is a recital by a single performer, usually with an accompanist. Solo recitals might include a duet or small ensemble piece. Joint recitals are sometimes organized with two soloists contributing to one program.

Whether you are a private teacher or solo performer planning a recital, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind. Here are some basic steps to follow when as you organize your program:

 

  1. Set a date. Give yourself enough time to practice and prepare. Think months in advance instead of weeks. Consult with family members and friends to pick a date that’s convenient for your most important guests.
  2. Find a venue. Because recitals are usually for smaller audiences in intimate settings, there are many excellent options as far as performing spaces go. House recitals are wonderfully cozy. Homes with vaulted ceilings usually have lovely acoustics. School and city auditoriums, cafes, libraries, community centers, and even outdoor parks and amphitheatres are great options. Call in advance to book a venue.
  3. Choose your music and finalize your program. Try choosing a variety of pieces to round out your program with a variety of composers and pieces from various eras (Baroque, Romantic, Classical, Modern, etc), or pick a theme (Bach, autumn, arias, movie music). Try not to add pieces last minute, throwing off your practice schedule and leaving you with inconsistently prepared pieces. For beginning students, Suzuki pieces are an excellent choice for student recitals, giving young players confidence to play on stage from the start with wonderful standard tunes. Kennedy Violins now carries sheet music perfect for the occasion.
  4. Find an accompanist. Choose someone experienced over an acquaintance or neighbor who just happens to play the piano. Remember that accompanists are usually paid per service.
  5. Practice with a plan. Write out a schedule devoting equal time to each piece on your program. You don’t want your favorite piece to sound great while everything else doesn’t. Consider focusing on one piece per weekday while still running through each piece daily.
  6. Keep up with lessons. Having a mentor is key when preparing. You need someone who can not only listen to you play, but give you pointers to perfect your performance.
  7. Invite people. Invite anyone and everyone! You can have small recitals for family members or open it up to the general public–whatever you want to do! Recitals are excellent opportunities for community members and loved ones to get together.
  8. Print programs. Keep the program simple. Take a look at program examples online for ideas. Include the title of each piece with the composers name. You could also include the composer’s birth and death dates, a bio about yourself and/or accompanist, and the names of each performer in the recital for group, joint, or student recitals.
  9. Arrange for audio/video recording. For student recitals especially, parents love a good video of their child performing. For professional recitals or to record pieces you’re like to submit as audition sample recordings, find quality equipment and possibly a sound engineer to record for you.
  10. Consider refreshments. Assign a friend or family member to take care of this for you so you don’t have to worry about it the day of the performance. A little munch and mingle after a recital is a great opportunity to receive positive feedback and plenty of hugs from all your fans.
  11. Decide what to wear. Choose something comfortable and cool. Practice in your outfit before hand to make sure you’re not restricted or uncomfortable while playing.
  12. If possible, practice in the venue. Test out the acoustics and balance with your accompanist.
  13. Have a dress rehearsal. Be sure to play through your entire program without stopping at least a few times on your own and at least once with your accompanist. If you can, have your teacher present for your dress rehearsal to give you any last pointers to prepare for the big day.
  14. Perform. Don’t stress about each and every difficult passage–just go for it! Let loose and do your best! Put in everything you’ve got and relish your moment in the spotlight. Performances like this don’t happen every day!
  15. Celebrate! Enough said.

A Violin is Brought Back to Life (Part 1)

A Violin in Pieces

I recently began a new project: putting together an old violin that had fallen completely apart. The instrument is an older German violin, probably made around 1930 – 1950.

Violins are similar to puzzles, in that they have many small parts that fit intricately together. They are also similar to puzzles in that they are actually designed to be taken apart if necessary.
Figuring Out What Goes Where

The type of glue used in making violins, called hide glue, is purposefully used because of its unique, not-too-strong properties. During times of extreme humidity or

Clamping Linings

temperature change, as the wood shifts slightly in size and shape, the glued seams will give way before the wood cracks. This saves the violin from becoming seriously damaged. Hide

Making New Corner Blocks

glue also ensures that the violin can safely be taken apart and put back together again when necessary. Heat and water will soften the glue, and seams can be safely opened and closed.

This violin had fallen apart probably because it was exposed to lots of differing temperatures and humidities over the years, and because hide glue naturally breaks down after a certain amount of time. As you can see, there is also a big crack on the top plate that will need to be repaired.
Stay tuned for future posts, and watch as this violin is brought back to life!

KV and the Stephen Foster Old-Time Music Weekend

The Stephen Foster Old Time Music Weekend has been held annually since 2005 at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs, FL on the banks of the beautiful and historic Suwannee River.  Each year SFOTMW holds classes and jams on fiddle, banjo, guitar, and singing.  To teach and lead these sessions, they bring in premier performers from around Florida and the U.S.  This year they had the privilege of working with the Orpheus Supertones.

In March, we were contacted by Chuck Levy, the director of SFOTMW, asking if we could make a donation to their upcoming auction which would benefit the scholarship fund.  As we researched their program, we were impressed by the passion that everyone shared not only for Old-Time music but also for furthering the music education of  SFOTMW participants.  So, we gladly donated a violin outfit in hopes of helping out their program.

Today, I received an e-mail from Chuck letting us know that the auction was a success and that they experienced a record number of enrollment during the weekend.  He also sent us a photo of all the participants.  Congratulations to SFOTMW for a successful weekend!  If you would like more information about the Stephen Foster Old Time Music Weekend you can check out their Facebook page for the latest updates.

Orchestra Rehearsal Etiquette

Photo by Jorge Franganillo

At Kennedy Violins, we want you to succeed as a performer whether you’d a first-time player or a seasoned professional. 99% of musicians at all skill levels participate in an ensemble: playing with other people. Whether you’re in an orchestra for the first time or you’re an experienced orchestral performer, you’ll soon notice that there are some unwritten “rules” pertaining to your involvement and behavior during rehearsal. Conductors even have their own style and set of expectations for the musicians under their direction.

It’s understandable if you feel a little nervous when performing with a new ensemble for the first time. Too bad no one will hand you a copy of Rehearsal Etiquette for Dummies. So if you’re wondering what to do and how to act in rehearsal, here are a few tips to keep you in the know.

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  • Arrive early—at least 15 minutes early, or with enough time to both get your instrument out and warm up. There is nothing more awkward than shuffling through a crowd of seated musicians in the middle of Prelude to the Afternoon of a Fawn. If you are late (it happens), try to avoid taking your seat while the musicians are playing; if you can, wait for an appropriate break in the action to slip in.
  • Come prepared. This means two things:

1) Come having thoroughly practiced your music. Nothing is more frustrating to conductors than to waste time rehearsing passages that the orchestra members didn’t practice ahead of time.

2) Before you head to rehearsal, double check that you have your music, instrument, bow, rosin, reeds, and any necessary accessories. Be sure to note whether or not you need to bring your own stand to rehearsal or you’ll be scrambling without one. You might consider keeping a wire stand in your car (like a spare tire) just in case!

  • Bring a pencil. This one gets its own paragraph. Attending rehearsal without a pencil is like sitting through a university lecture without a taking notes. Even if you think you’ll be able to remember every direction the conductor gives, every dynamic change, every cut, and every ritardando, really, you probably won’t. Keep a couple pencils in your instrument case so they’re always on hand.
  • Don’t under- or over-mark the music. Certainly write down bowings and musical directions as instructed. But don’t ruin the sheet music by circling every last key change, accidental, and dynamic marking until your music is black with pencil. And if you’re sharing a stand, especially avoid slathering the music with your personal notes and fingerings; it’s unprofessional.
  • Be courteous to your colleagues. Position yourself so both you and your stand partner have enough arm and leg room and can see the music comfortably. Don’t be afraid to ask the people around or behind you if they can see the conductor or if you can move a little to give them more space.
  • Don’t tune loudly. Tune as softly as possible so the players around you can hear themselves as well as the tuning A.
  • Don’t chat. If you need to communicate something to your stand partner, do so inconspicuously and quietly. Save personal conversations for break time.
  • At the same time, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Approach your section leader during a break, or raise your hand with [appropriate] questions for the conductor for any clarifications.
  • Don’t tap your feet. The conductor is there to keep you in rhythm, and the tapping creates unnecessary noise.
  • If you’re sharing a stand, the inside player (or player further from the edge of the stage) turns the pages.
  • Pass down bowings or comments from the section leader. Don’t be the break in the chain.
  • Players on the outside (closest to the edge of the stage) play the top line of a divisi section while the inside player plays the bottom.
  • Leave your arrogance at home. Members of the orchestra are all equal; everyone is contributing. Don’t gloat if you have a solo, and don’t bust out personal solo concertos and performances pieces just to show off. Everyone will be more annoyed than impressed. Also, don’t practice another orchestra member’s solo to demonstrate that you can play it better.
  • If at all possible, don’t miss any rehearsals leading up to a concert. It is a sign of disrespect to both the conductor and your orchestra members if you’re prioritize getting your nails done over working as hard as everyone else in preparation for a performance. Be careful not to double book yourself.
  • If you’ve agreed to play a performance, don’t back out if you get another gig, even if it pays better. It’s bad form, and you may lose your opportunity to ever play with the initial ensemble again if the director deems you flaky.
  • Learn the art of the “hidden yawn.” Sometimes you just can’t avoid yawning, but you can hide it with a little creativity. Lean over to tie your shoe or pretend to scratch your nose to hide your gaping mouth. Don’t let the conductor catch you yawning. Ornery conductors may send you packing or never invite you back.
  • Treat your music with kindness. Most sheet music is rented or borrowed from a library. Only write markings lightly in pencil so the next player to use it doesn’t have to painfully scrub out markings with a massive rubber eraser. Try not to bend pages or tear them. Keep the music in a protective folder to keep it from getting crinkled in transit.
  • Don’t wear perfume or cologne. You’d be surprised by how many people are allergic or irritated by it.
  • TURN OFF YOUR PHONE. Enough said.
  • Stop when the conductor stops. If you keep playing, it’s a sign that you’re not paying attention. Also, don’t noodle around or practice while the conductor is talking. Personal practice and group rehearsal are two separate activities.
  • Don’t eat during rehearsal. Bottles of water with lids are okay.
  • Don’t question the conductor or treat him/her with disrespect. Trust in their artistic direction. Don’t argue with the conductor or you’ll likely find yourself packing up and sent on your way.
  • Don’t complain about where you sit. Even if you’ve had seating auditions and you think you can play better than other members in your section, graciously accept your position. Just because you sit in the back doesn’t mean you’re not a valuable player; in fact, being in the group to begin with is a privilege in itself. But don’t hesitate to practice your tail off in preparation for the next seating audition.
  • Lastly, enjoy the music! Don’t take rehearsal so seriously that you lose your connection with the piece or with your instrument. Playing music in an ensemble is a real treat; don’t forget that you’re taking part in a meaningful cultural tradition that will edify your audience.

Online Music Lessons: Helpful or Hurtful?

We live in an interesting age, musically speaking.  Through the avenue of the internet, so much is available to us in the way of recordings, videos, articles, pictures, etc, etc.  From this sea of information, any aspiring musician with a computer can find tools and resources for online music lessons and often times for free.

Learning music online is vastly different than what teachers and players have been used to in generations before the world wide web making some wonder if online lessons are truly beneficial for budding musicians or if they just cause confusion and poor technique.  Before investing any serious time in front of a computer screen, there are a few things to consider when it comes to music lessons.

When it comes to learning anything, I think the most important thing to consider is how you or your student learns.  For instance, I am a kinesthetic learner.  I learn best by doing or using my hands.  Sitting around watching videos online, does help me as much a having a teacher guide me during a lesson and then practicing it on my own for several hours.  Yet, I have a student who is a very visual learner and online videos are a great reference for the days in-between lessons.  Likewise, I have a family member that can read a car manual and just build an engine in a weekend.  I’m sure that if he wanted to, he could play the violin after a day of reading “How-To” blogs online.

If you decide that using online music lessons are something that would be helpful for you, the next thing you need to consider is where the information is coming from.  The good news is that there are hundreds of thousands of videos, articles, and blogs to choose from.  The bad news is that pretty much anyone with a computer and 5 minutes of free time can post something.  When searching for music lessons, it’s best to use media produced by a professional or teacher with years of experience.  Generally, they will have tried and true methods to share that won’t lead you or your student astray.  If you are unsure about the validity of something you found online, it’s best to double check with your teacher.  Send them a link and have them check it out.  If you are teaching yourself how to play, you can always check with other members in the music community.  Contacting a local music store to see if they have come across something useful is a great place to find sound advice.  You can also check with other players through online forums like Violinist.com or Fiddle Hangout.

If you aren’t sure where to start looking online, a great place to start is our blog.  We are all professionals and teachers here, and we work hard to provide our readers with quality and useful educational articles that anyone can access.  We also have a Video Library on our website.  You can check it out here.

15 Tips to Successfully Sight Read

Photo by Horla Varlan

One of the least anticipated elements of an audition is the dreaded task of sight reading. As perfectly as you may have prepared your performance pieces and your scales, all of a sudden a completely foreign piece of music is placed in front of you and—what?—you’re supposed to play this stuff cold?

Horribly fumbling through a passage of music for a panel of judges is not only scary, but potentially embarrassing—especially after so much preparation for an otherwise impressive audition.

But it doesn’t have to go badly, and the prospect of sight reading doesn’t have to fill you with absolute dread. The stage fright that sets in when that piece is placed in front of you can be completely avoided if you approach the task with confidence and a little know-how.

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HOW TO SIGHT READ

Here are 15 tips to successfully sight read. You can do it!

  1. Practice sight reading. Pull out some music you’ve never played before each time you practice, especially in the weeks before an audition. Practice sight reading using the tips below as if you were actually in an audition setting, even in front of family or friends. If you experience stage fright or get anxiety when you audition or play for others, be sure to practice your audition (including sight reading) in front of a “mock” panel of judges.
  2. Take a BRIEF moment to look over the entire passage. Glance over the whole piece to familiarize yourself with any dynamic markings, tempo changes, key changes, articulation markings, and the like. Don’t take too long doing this; you don’t want to keep the judges waiting. Try to look over the following details in less than 60 seconds.
  3. Look at the key signature. First things first. Take note of any sharps or flats. Also glance over the piece and take note of any accidentals.
  4. Identify measures with lots of notes. Look for clusters of notes (or lots of black). These are spots that will most likely be the trickiest.
  5. Identify measures with complex rhythms. Note dotted rhythms or clusters of sixteenth and eight notes. You will base your tempo on how quickly you think you can play the tricky passages.
  6. Look at the tempo marking. If a passage is marked andante, largo, lento, or moderato, do NOT play it faster than it should be. Playing a piece quickly with the intention to show off will not impress the judges. In fact, you’re more likely to trip over challenging passages if you start playing too fast.
  7. Start playing. Again, don’t keep the judges waiting too long. Go for it!
  8. Take your time. Concerning the tempo, it is perfectly okay when sight reading to play the passage a little slower than you might in a real performance.
  9. Keep a steady tempo. Don’t speed up or slow down. One of the most important things you can do is play the passage at a steady, consistent speed. This is something the judges are specifically looking for. Varying your tempo will give the judges the impression that you don’t have a solid sense of rhythm.
  10. Read ahead. Play one measure as you’re look ahead the the next measure(s). “An experiment on sight reading using an eye tracker indicates that highly skilled musicians tend to look ahead further in the music, storing and processing the notes until they are played; this is referred to as the eye–hand span.” [1]
  11. Don’t sweat the bowings. Start with a down bow (unless otherwise marked) and take it as it comes.
  12. Don’t stop or repeat measures if you mess up. This is also something the judges look for specifically as you can’t stop and repeat measure in a real performance, especially with an accompanist or when playing in an orchestra. Forge ahead!
  13. Don’t apologize or say, “Oops!” In fact, don’t say anything. Not even a disclaimer before you begin, like, “Oh, wow. Okay. This is probably going to sound really bad, but here goes!”
  14. Stop playing when instructed. Always stop immediately when the judges say so. Usually they stop you to stay on schedule or because they’ve gotten a good impression of your playing abilities based on what you’ve already done.
  15. And lastly, pat yourself on the back. It’s over! You did it! It’s as simple as that.

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[1] Wikipedia, “Sight reading,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sight_reading#Sight-reading