“I’m playing in a recital!” Did you say that with anticipation or anxiety? Delight or trepidation? Let’s discuss what you might expect at a flute or piano recital, your appearance and preparedness, how you handle nerves, and concert etiquette.
Although recitals differ from studio to studio, certain aspects are similar: a teacher’s students gather together to play music for each other. Often programs are handed out for the benefit of students — “Am I next?” — as well as audience — “What a great piece! I hope Johnny gets to play that one.” The audience of family and friends is highly supportive, boosting the players’ confidence. And when recitals are held every three months or so, students’ consistent progress is noted and applauded. While some students may play works in progress, others are more polished and often memorized, and still others demonstrate ‘show biz’ — simply getting through it by the seat of their pants.
A student’s attire at a recital should be tried and true. This is not the venue to try out new shoes, for example — “Whoops! Hold onto the flute; I feel tippy in these heels!”. A new accessory can be surprising: years ago one of my piano students was so enamored and distracted by a new scarf she’d draped across her arms, that she got lost in her piece. The best attire is dressy yet comfortable, so the student is free to focus on making music.
However, the real preparation for a recital is not the ‘day of’ externals, but the week-to-week internal preparation, developing a piece from bare bones notes to a musical experience. Within each week is daily practice and progress, and within each practice session are moments of both concentration and enlightenment. As the student learns increasingly about the composer’s intentions, he/she can share that from a personal level with the audience.
And it is this very act of sharing with the audience that is the key to turning nervous ‘jitters’ into anticipation. During solo performances growing up, I tried to ignore my nervousness. But facing a case of nerves is much better, because it diffuses the adrenalin rush. Preparedness again is key here: pianists can handle the onset of tremulous fingers if they have worked out safe and secure fingerings throughout the music, hands separately and hands together. And flutists can deal with the nervousness that leads to shorter, shallower breaths by working out where to breathe comfortably from start to finish in their piece.
Finally, a word about recital etiquette — it’s really an extension of the Golden Rule: listeners should show respect for each player, no matter if the interpretation was different from theirs. Be encouraging with applause and comments afterwards as well. Likewise, players should “invite the audience in” as they begin to play. Also they should bow afterwards: bend over looking at the feet long enough to mentally say, “Thank you”. The reward of a recital is the music, a treasure to be given and received.