10 Secrets for Successful Student Piano Concerts
One of my many duties as office manager at Pastimes for a Lifetime Art and Piano School is to assist founder/instructor Linda Wehrli with her Student Piano Concerts.
I have seen firsthand how much joy Linda Wehrli’s recitals bring to her students and their families and friends. The format has never been stiff, formal or impersonal. Concerts are as entertaining as they are warm and welcoming, with fellow students and their families greeting each other at the beginning and congratulating at the end of each concert. Venues are filled to capacity often with standing room only.
The secret behind the success of Linda’s student concerts lies in the distinct format she has developed over her 25+ years of teaching. For this blog, Linda has agreed to reveal 10 of the top secrets to her readers.
Before the Concert: (1) Research the venue. Make sure they have ample seating and a “back stage” area for student performers to chill out between performances. This could be a separate room or a room divider. Linda keeps shoji curtains on hand for whenever the occasion arises.
(2) If you don’t enjoy public speaking, or as in Linda’s case, are too swamped with concert details to do so, hire a great master of ceremonies. A friendly, warm demeanor along with a good sense of timing and humor and crystal clear speaking skills are a must.
(3) Plan to perform at the end of the student portion of the concert to give students something to aspire to. Collaborate with guest musicians to inspire students to seek out fellow student musicians to jam with.
(4) Secure a reliable set up crew and equipment such as a microphone and speaker for the Master of Ceremonies and guest musicians. HIre a reputable sound engineer if performances will be recorded as MP3s, and a photographer if no one is available. Consider hiring a caterer if a potluck proves too difficult to coordinate.
(5) Research every piece being performed. Write an engaging script that makes the music and composers relevant to the audience. Include some “Aha” moments. Organize the music by style or era, with beginner students performing ahead of more advanced students. Send the script to the master of ceremonies several weeks before the concert to work out pronunciations and other important details.
(6) If a dress rehearsal at the venue is not available, turn a portion of the students’ piano lessons into a mini dress rehearsal complete with a walk up and return to backstage. That helps reduce the nervousness for both student and teacher.
(7) Design a stylish concert program. Include the date, time and place along with an eye-catching logo or image. List the child and teen performers and their ages on the front side. For adult students, master of ceremonies and guest musicians, leave off the ages. On the inside, list the name of the student performer, their piece and the composer’s name. Ensure enough copies are available for guests when they sign the guest book.
At the Concert: (8) Make sure everyone is greeted as they come in, and asked to sign the guest book. It’s not a competition. It’s a collaboration. Everyone’s good energy is important and contributes to a wonderful experience.
(9) Before the concert begins, profusely thank everyone who helped make the concert possible. That includes the students and their families. Then welcome the guests and introduce the master of ceremonies. Let the MC run the concert. Stay back stage with the performers for moral support. Be available to whisper hints discreetly from back stage if a student gaffes. Let the master of ceremonies smooth over any awkward moments. That’s their specialty.
(10) At the end of the concert, before refreshments are served, award students with beautiful certificates of merit for their portfolios. Take photos of the group as well as individual shots. Linda includes an additional treat for each student, master of ceremonies, guest performers, assistants and host: a chocolate musical note hand made by chocolatier, Anita Burgoyne of Custom Chocolate Designs.
Linda pointed out that this successful format took a span of 25 years to perfect. She agreed to share a little history of her student concerts from the very first one to the present.
“The very first student concert was held just two years after my marriage to Barry Wehrli of Wehrli Publications. My parents, Frank and Phyllis Pelteson, graciously hosted the inaugural concert in their Northridge, California home, allowing students the opportunity to play on our 1903 Mason & Hamlin parlor grand piano. There was no format. Students were announced, they played and then sat down. When refreshments were served, students interacted only with their friends and family. I got the idea to introduce students along with their pieces, for the next concert.
After Barry and I moved from our tiny Valley Glen newlywed apartment to our Valley Village condominium, my parents gifted us with their Mason & Hamlin, which remains in our home to this day.
The next student concert was held in our condo living room. Students were introduced along with their age and hobbies. The format felt friendlier, but the concert seemed to be more about the students than the music. One parent even complained I had mentioned more about another student than hers. That was awkward. For the next concert, I decided to announce the music, and let a printed program introduce the players. It also occurred to me to announce something about each piece, as audience members were engaged only when their family member was performing and not so much when the others played.
Once my students and I had select their performance pieces, and the order of their performances in the program, I begin researching interesting historical tidbits about the pieces, the composer and period of music history it came from. The script had to be short yet engaging. Not a fan of public speaking, I reached out to friends and family who graced stepped in my master of ceremonies.
As the number of piano students grew, a bigger venue was needed. Luckily, the condo’s homeowners association was amenable to allowing us to store an upright piano in the rec room for my student recitals. The rec room’s kitchen for food prep, downstairs main room for the after party and upstairs room for performance and seating 30+ guests, became the venue of choice for Pastimes’ student concerts for many years.
Once the format had been perfected, a better piano needed to be procured. The upright piano was later replaced with Barry’s Yamaha Motif. Students could now perform their pieces on a Harpsichord, Organ or Contemporary Keyboard setting for a more authentic sound. It was a big hit.
As students progressed to more advanced pieces, the need for a concert grand piano became the next adventure. Keyboard Concepts in Van Nuys, came to the rescue, allowing local teachers like myself, to hold their student recitals and competitions on some of the stellar pianos in the showroom.
After several successful concerts, Keyboard Concepts opted to reserve the concert hall exclusively for Yamaha group keyboard classes. I had to scramble to find another venue with a stellar instrument. Through a parent’s recommendation, I reached out to Hollywood Pianos, Burbank. They graciously stepped up and hosted a successful concert in their lovely new showroom concert hall.
After receiving an invitation to attend a piano concert by an internationally acclaimed pianist at Temple Adat Ari El in Valley Village, CA, I thought I would give their facility a try. The coordinator graciously showed me the room which was ample and their grand piano which sounded nice. He worked out an affordable rental fee for the school which I greatly appreciated. We are looking forward to having our November 2015 concert at their facility.
Now that the concert format has been perfected, new technology and social media trends are the next areas to cultivate. They can be challenging, but if they allow family members from all over the world to enjoy student performances, I’m game. My younger, social media savvy office manager, Jessica Sanders is an invaluable member of the team!”
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Originally published at pastimesinc.com on August 16, 2015.