Well, I am back from a restful vacation and ready to get to work. After a summer break, most teachers are eager to begin another year with renewed enthusiasm. New goals are set, activities are planned, and projects are in the making. If you have a passion for teaching, it never seems to leave you.
In this blog, I share more of my research about the pedagogy class that Louise Goss taught, “The Teaching-Learning Process and the Piano Teacher.” Today’s topic is on recital preparation. In addition to what Miss Goss had to say about performance, I have included suggestions made by Elvina Truman Pearce. Mrs. Pearce joined the class as an invited guest lecturer.
As Louise Goss emphasized, students have to play well when they perform since failure is simply not an option. Even one poor performance can wreak havoc with a student’s confidence. Fortunately, this can be prevented if students are thoroughly prepared. Recital preparation begins by having the students perform in group lessons, master classes, workshops, etc. throughout the school year. The right music must then be selected and assigned an adequate amount of time before the recital date. Elvina Truman Pearce tries to select a crowd pleaser that the student can play competently. Mrs. Pearce made a point of saying that choosing the most challenging piece a student has studied is not always a wise decision as nervousness may prevail. Students need to feel comfortable with the music beforehand. In addition, they should be able to play the hardest section of the piece with control. Although the teacher usually selects the recital repertoire, Mrs. Pearce proposed letting students choose six of their favorite pieces. The teacher can then narrow the list down to one or two.
A long-term practice plan needs to be outlined for recital pieces. During the first weeks of preparation, the piece should be played slowly for accuracy. A tempo is achieved gradually after the notes and rhythm are absolutely secure. To prevent burn-out, Mrs. Pearce recommended that students be allowed to stop practicing on a daily basis once the piece is polished. With “maintenance practice,” the piece is played only two, or at most three times a week. On each day, the student plays one time slowly with the score and a second/third time without the score if memorized (the teacher can assign difficult passages from the piece as warm-ups). A few weeks before the recital, the piece is played every day again, and the teacher resumes coaching the piece as if it is a new assignment.
Teaching techniques such as conducting and singing “help students project a piece over the footlights.” These are the words Frances Clark used to describe how students have to prepare an exciting and convincing musical performance in order to capture the full attention of the audience. Every musical nuance is exaggerated for effect; i.e. a student’s body and facial expression convey the mood of the piece. For example, a pianissimo section is played in a reserved manner whereas the “sound of trumpets” in a fortissimo section is played with a straight back, large arm motions, and full tone.
Teachers often ask their students to play recital repertoire by memory. Again, a performance marred by errors, including just one memory slip, can be upsetting. Students who play their piece with the music and do not have difficulties may start to struggle when they try to play without the score. Louise Goss stated that students must not be required to memorize recital literature unless they have had many opportunities to play memorized pieces in lessons and for class performances. Miss Goss also said that students can learn how to memorize effectively if memory work is included in every assignment from the time lessons begin. Tactile and aural memory skills are easily acquired, but analytical memorization has to be taught. After the piece is well learned, the teacher can close the book and ask questions about the music that help students remember how they performed the piece: e.g. “Did you use the groups of two or three black keys?” “Which hand played first?” For intermediate and advanced repertoire, teachers can evaluate if a piece is memorized by having students play a particular section without referring to the music. For instance, you can ask a student to start at part B or jump ahead to the return of part A. Until a student is able to begin at any section and can play the entire piece from memory on the first attempt, the piece is not completely memorized, and more work is needed. At The New School, we make a final decision as to whether or not a student is prepared to play by memory one month prior.
Performance etiquette has to be practiced. As the recital date draws near, the student should rehearse walking to and from the piano in an unhurried pace. Placing the hands in the lap before playing as well as ending the piece with an appropriate gesture are important for artistic poise. The teacher should also demonstrate how to bow with ease and assurance. Of course, all of this is practiced at a rehearsal scheduled a few days before the recital. Rehearsals give students an opportunity to play on the instrument and become familiar with the hall. It may take a second run-through for students to become accustomed to the sound and feel of the piano. Ending the rehearsal with a successful performance is very important. Once students play well in the recital hall, they tend to relax and do not anticipate failing.
Teachers have different opinions as to what students should do on the day of the recital. Some believe students should play through the piece one time slowly and then practice just starting the piece a tempo. Others encourage students to focus on brackets followed by several run-throughs. I think the jury is still out, but one thing is clear. At the recital, it is essential that students continue playing even if errors are made. Mrs. Pearce teaches her students how to go on despite distractions by telling them to ignore any disruptions and then distracting them as they play to see if they are tempted to stop. Students will feel capable and trust in their ability to perform the piece after they have practiced playing without interruption. No matter what happens on that special day, recitals are a time for celebration. Students and teachers have worked diligently to reach every milestone.
Believe it or not, this concludes my blogs on “The Teaching-Learning Process and the Piano Teacher.” Obviously, Louise Goss covered much more material than I have shared, but I have tried to highlight the basics. As for evaluation and grading, I should mention that graduate students rehearsed many teaching techniques in class. They also taught repertoire selected from The Clark Library. Projects were assigned to review instruction. For example, the class demonstrated how the sound-feel-sign-name sequence could be reinforced. In addition, graduate students were required to submit lesson plans and assignment sheets for evaluation of content and form. At the end of each semester, they handed in a notebook of typed lecture notes. The projects and notebooks were graded. Class participation was considered in assigning a final semester grade.
I hope you will check back to further peruse our website. For my series of blogs, I plan to give information about the other pedagogy classes that were offered at The New School. All course work was designed to prepare pedagogy students for the day-to-day demands of being a competent, well-trained teacher. Frances Clark and Louise Goss reminded all of us that teaching is an art. How fortunate we are to make a living as artists.