December 2014 Archives

Music recitals & what matters in them

After around 6 months of piano lessons, the 1st grader had his first piano recital a couple of weeks ago.

It went well—he didn't have a lot of nervousness, he did remember his 3 very short memorized pieces, and he played them fine.

But I was struck by something as I watched the procession of students play.

I have been out of the watching-kids-perform world for so very long that I had totally forgotten that when kids make mistakes, their natural reaction is to back up and fix them.

(Several of the students, across a wide range of ages and skills, did this.)

I tried to think of when that was trained out of me, and have concluded that it was essentially when I began performing in ensembles--orchestras, choirs, etc.

Whether they said so out loud or not, it became clear from my various directors that in a performance, the group will not be stopping for one person's mistake. It is simply not practical to go back and fix much of anything.

(I have definitely had a few of the worst-case experiences where everything gets so cocked-up that there is no hope of proceeding together coherently, when you can feel the director's pain as they halt the entire song, quickly communicate a measure number or other fresh rendezvous point to the group, and try to resume with some dignity.)

It gets even more pronounced when you are having to coordinate with other performers who are not even looking at the same conductor as you—say, being in the pit orchestra for a musical. The action on the stage is going to happen whatever you do, so you do your best to stay in sync with the actors no matter what, caution to the wind and devil take the hindmost.


Watching piano students play by themselves, especially some just starting out, I have to shush that longstanding instinct. They are more concerned with correctness than with maintenance of tempo, and frankly this is fine and age-appropriate. Just a little unfamiliar.

(Another idea this experience reminded me of was the "Five Nines" concept as applied to musical performances, which I will have to elaborate on in some future post.)

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