I recently teamed up with fellow piano teacher Susanna Downes to hold a piano recital for our students. Susanna and I talked about the possibility of combining our students for recitals, as it provides a greater opportunity for interaction and helps to boost numbers at times of the year when not everyone can participate. Our main issue was finding a reasonably priced venue and piano for hire, taking into consideration that it would be a small number of students.
I work weekend shifts at The Piano Shop Bath, and I had been trying to see if there was a way we could hold some kind of interactive event at the showroom. The basement of the shop had recently be opened and refurbished into a showroom, and I started to think of it as a possible venue for the recital. It has the advantage of being well located on the London Road into Bath and of course, having a piano for performance is no issue! My manager Jon was on board from the start and provided full support with tuning, moving pianos to make space, and canapés! I should also give a very notable mention to Father Peter Edwards from nearby St John’s Church, who allowed us to borrow some chairs for the recital.
Once the chairs were set up we knew that the basement showroom would have the right kind of intimate yet supportive atmosphere needed for the students. As some of my younger students arrived I could see there were a few nerves, but having family there for support undoubtedly gave them the courage they needed to play their pieces. We had eight students in all between us, playing a range of pieces from beginner to intermediate levels. All of the students made parents and teachers proud, excelling in understandably nerve racking conditions, and putting in some really musical performances. At the end all the students were presented with a certificate for their excellent efforts.
The evening was a thorough success. Susanna and I look forward to continuing the collaboration with The Piano Shop Bath, providing more regular opportunities for students to perform their music. Student recitals tend to fall at the end of the Summer school term, being a natural point in the academic year to have a concert. Many students will also have recently taken their music exam around this time. And yet for the rest of the year, performance opportunities are few in number.
The logistics of setting up an environment where students can play to a willing audience, are more difficult than one initially assumes. Simply finding a reasonable-sized space with a decent piano can be challenging, and then organising the various friends and family to turn up can be a huge task in itself! So the opportunity The Piano Shop Bath provides for Susanna and me is of immeasurable help. Performance skills can seldom be taught; you have to gain experience and learn to work with the natural reactions your body and mind go through. Ironically there is little guidance from exam boards on how to approach a musical performance, yet an exam will allocate nearly two thirds of the marks precisely on performance. The best way is through regular performances, with support from teacher, family and friends.
If you know you have an exam coming up it is highly advisable to have at least two or three practice runs with an audience. Even if you make mistakes, you will be preparing your mind and body for how to deal with them and keep going unaffected. You will also get better at acclimatizing yourself for being under observation. Remember, there are very few audiences that will be looking for mistakes, they are always willing you to play at your best. So relax (as much as possible!) and give yourself to the instrument and the music: the rest will fall in to place.