Tuesday, September 02, 2008

What possible good are piano recitals?

When I was taking piano lessons as a small child, I used to dread piano recitals at the end of each school year. And I imagine most kids feel about the same. But there is some long-range benefits to participating in recitals as well which really won't be fully appreciated until one is an adult and has some perspective.

I remember one particular recital when I was about in the 4th or 5th grade. I played something very simple like "Swans on the Lake" or some such, and another boy of the same age I didn't know at the time played "Kitten on the Keys" -- a uptempo, jazzy piece with lots of notes -- much more advanced than my little piece. It wasn't his fault, of course, but I felt absolutely humiliated and wanted to quit piano lessons immediately.

I'm sure glad that wiser heads prevailed (my Mom and Dad), because in high school this kid and I became best friends and played in the same combo -- he on tenor sax and me on piano. By then I could play circles around him (on piano, not sax!) simply because I had learned chords and also learned how to improvise. And our friendship has lasted up to this present time.

A piano recital is just another name for a piano performance; the term is typically associated with amateurs or non-professionals, but that is not always the case. But regardless of skill level, whether the pianist is a professional or an amateur, a piano recital can be a harrowing, nerve-wracking experience. It requires months of practice and a certain level of confidence to showcase your abilities in front of an audience, and that pressure has a way of wearing on even the most seasoned piano recital performers. With proper preparation and plenty of time, however, those pre-piano recital jitters can be kicked right out of the room; it just takes a little dedication.

Having a helpful teacher is definitely beneficial to piano recital preparations. But if you don't have access to large amounts of help, a few important steps can get you through the piano recital preparations on your own. The first step, obviously, is to pick the music for the piano recital. It's best to pick a piece that hasn't been done to death, something that will surprise and enlighten the audience. That being said, it's also important to choose a piece within your skill level; the goal here is to put on a great piano recital, not to struggle with an overly advanced piece.

After you've chosen your piano recital music, locate a recording of the composition or several different performances if you can find them. Listen to how other musicians play the piece, tune in the subtleties, the texture. But don't use this as a tool for copying; one you're well into practices for the piano recital, put the recordings away.

The next (and most important) step in the piano recital preparations is to begin practicing as early as possible. Know the piece like the back of your hand, don't let any surprises come up the night of the piano recital. In the early stages of practice, get in the habit of memorizing the material and taping what you've worked on for the day. You can later use those tapes to give you an objective view of your piano recital, to hear if you're making any critical mistakes.
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