Growing up, I played violin and piano from age four through high school, not always simultaneously; piano lessons were shelved in high school, which is funny because now I’m a piano teacher, and I didn’t start at four with piano, just violin. That’s a long time to play any instrument, let alone two, and adds up to a lot of recitals.
Studying violin in the Suzuki method, I liked group recitals. We would play through a selection of songs starting with the most advanced students at the school, and down through the Twinkles. Standing with anywhere from ten to two dozen or more other violinists, there was no sense of stage fright, and no worry about forgetting the notes. Solo recitals were another thing entirely.
I have never played a piece and not made a mistake in a recital. I don’t know if that is true for professionals, or if the mistakes they make are hardly noticeable to the average audience member, but it was nerve wracking to know I would play and I would make a mistake. I thought the goal was perfection. There was no joy in sharing my music with others; it was an effort to remember the piece and do everything my teacher had taught me. And for violin, all the music had to be memorized.
Piano recitals, I have few memories of. I remember my last recital, in high school, and I remember a couple from elementary age years, but nothing else. I didn’t have to memorize my pieces for those recitals, as far as I can remember. If I have music in front of me, it’s easier, but I still don’t have good feelings when I hear the word “piano recital” or “violin recital.” So it was an effort for me to put together a recital for my piano students this spring.
I have students who started lessons a couple years ago, with a different teacher, and I have students who started this past winter. I have students who started in September and have nearly finished the first Suzuki method book, and I have students who started in September and are just finishing up the Twinkles. All of them have worked hard, and made progress over the year, and I enjoy being their teacher. I wasn’t certain I wanted to put them through a recital. But I did, and I have come to the conclusion that recitals are for teachers, not for students.
I think my students enjoyed the applause, and the treats afterwards. The first recital is always the hardest; it’s a new experience. I know the anxiety and struggle because I have been a student performing at recitals. I was unprepared to be the teacher, and listen to my students, and be thrilled with their accomplishments. I could stand and listen, and remember their first lessons, and see how far they had come. I could enjoy their beautiful music, and be proud of them. I could also feel confident in my abilities as a teacher. This was my first year of teaching piano, and a first recital for me, as well. There were so many unknowns, of what each student would do, and if they would remember their pieces, all the little things. I didn’t have them perform to validate me, but for them to play as beautifully as they did makes me realize I must be doing something right.
So recitals are for teachers, at least until the students are playing as artists. Recitals are for family and friends to appreciate the hard work of the students, and for teachers to appreciate the hard work they themselves have done. Hopefully, the students enjoy more than the cookies and applause.
Having crossed the hurdle of the first recital, I think I’m better prepared for the next one. I did play a piece at the recital, farther along in the student repertoire. I made a mistake. And that’s alright.