WHERE PLANNING MEETS PERFORMANCE
THOUGHTS ON IMPROVING THE STUDENT RECITAL PLANNING EXPERIENCE
Prof. Kelly Langenberg, Horn & Dr. Mark Ponzo, Trumpet
Northern Illinois University
Planning a student recital can feel like a part-time job. There is a lot of paperwork, scheduling, coordinating across multiple offices and departments, and then there is the practice and preparation above and beyond all of that. So where do you start? What’s your first step? When does this or that need to be done? Not every answer is here, but we
realized our students were being challenged by the process so we created this guide to help with the recital planning and preparation process.
Planning Meets Performance | The absolute first thing you should do is create a list of 3-5 possible dates you and your private teacher are available. If you plan to play a recital in a given school year, the conversation should take place at your first lesson of the semester. Pick at least five possible dates at that time. Reserve your date as soon as you can. This avoids trouble later on and sets your goalpost, allowing you to begin preparations. Remember, there are always more recitals in the Spring semester than there are for the Fall semester. Non-Recital year for you? You can still begin the process of planning your recital. The pressure’s off and this is the time to explore music you’d be interested in playing more than once.
Choosing the Right Date | A recital requires at least 10 weeks to prepare. A recital venue may need to be requested up to five months in advance. Confirm your private teacher is available, then check with accompanist and chamber groups. Check the large ensemble concert schedules to avoid conflicts. Do not plan your recital for the day after or the day of another large performance. Choose the time of day you are most mentally alert. Choose a time your friends and family can be there to support you.
Project Management Software for Recital Planning Success | There are so many reasons why using an app to help you plan your recital is beneficial. Front-loading all of your tasks at the beginning of the project will give help you track your progress in each stage of the process. You can set deadlines and connect due dates to your digital calendar, send yourself reminders, store links to important forms or recordings, and invite collaborators like your private teacher or chamber group. The software I used for this example is Trello, a free project management software available as an app and downloadable program. Based on the information in this document, I designed a template for recital planning. I included an image below, and you can access my Trello Board here: SENIOR RECITAL PLANNING BOARD
Conceptualizing Your Program | You’ve likely been thinking about what you’d like to play for at least two years. It’s great to have some ideas. Think about the energy level of each piece- both for you and for the audience- and consider how the end of one piece feels beside the beginning of another piece. There is an organic way to plan your program. Plan a program that is both listenable and includes variety. Consider the physical difficulty, too, and try to front-load the pieces that require the most brain bandwidth. The first half of your program should be the longer half, and your intermission should be no longer than ten minutes.
Research literature. Keep a running list of pieces you like. (Google Keep is a great app for this.)
Always be on the look-out for solo literature.
Order any music you are considering and study recordings. Use library resources like ILShare to track down sheet music. You can call any sheet music store and they are always eager to help you track something down.
Do not perform from sheet music you do not own. Purchase a printed copy.
Focus your research on selections you truly enjoy- you will be playing this music a LOT.
Think about cohesion. Pick pieces that form a concept or program together.
Choose your bigger pieces first.
Listen to music written for other instruments that could be considered as transcriptions.
Avoid pieces that are frequently performed.
Begin your program with a curated opener- a short piece that isn’t difficult. To paraphrase Doc Severinsen: The audience won’t be listening because they’ll be looking, so pick something easy and short, knowing no one’s really listening yet.
Does the program you’ve chosen represent you as a player and musician?
Lean In | All of the work you do now will transform to reward, so keep your eyes on the prize. Put your head down and do your work. Practice a lot, listen to recordings, record yourself, and play for anyone who will listen. Study the piano part and know it as well as your own part. Start doing mock run-throughs about six weeks before your recital, and then with your pianist about a month before your recital.
Find Your Boundary | Play through the entire program regularly. This will help you learn the pacing of your program. Do you have the strength to play the program you’ve chosen? Where do you need to save it, and where can you really play out? Where do you start to feel tired? You don’t want to learn this at the recital. It would be best for you to run through your program at the exact time of day as your recital. Find an opportunity to perform your recital more than once.
Savvy Preparation | Check out an hour or two each week in the space you will perform in so you can get an intimate feel of the sound of the hall, the lighting, and the resonance. Also, keep a journal with your thoughts, any important notes, your feelings about your practice recordings, and your points of inspiration. These will all be helpful to you when you want direction.
Stoplighting | Stoplighting is an analysis system to asses short-term progress and re-establish weekly practice goals. Here's how you do it: Set an interval. Let’s say you choose one week. At the top of every week, do a play through of all the literature for your recital (Stoplighting is also great for orchestral audition preparation.) After each movement, asses it's preparation and categorize in the appropriate area:
GREEN- Play it if time permits but do not practice this until the next interval
YELLOW- needs simple work, practice without priority
RED- your main focus this interval. Top of your practice pile.
Your intervals should shorten as you get closer to your goalpost, re-assessing more frequently as your date approaches.
Smooth Moves | Stage logistics are often an under-appreciated detail in recital prep. Think about when you will need extra chairs and stands. Think about where you will put your mutes, your water bottle, page turns, and other important but seemingly small details of your program. Make decisions about when you will leave the stage and where you will talk.
Working With an Accompanist
Be proactive about communicating with your pianist.
Set up a run-through rehearsal early on to meet your accompanist and discuss tempi.
Provide your accompanist with recordings of the pieces you’ve chosen.
Record all of your rehearsals with your accompanist.
Request your accompanist to record the piano part for you.
Plan at least two rehearsals at your venue.
The accompanist will like the opportunity to play the piano.
State goals at the beginning of each rehearsal.
Have rehearsal tools at the ready: metronome, speakers, pencils, etc.
Agree to and understand the character and style of your pieces.
Tips for Proper Programs
Page 1: Your name & Instrument
Date, time, and location
Names of Featured guests (chamber group, etc.)
Page 2: Program: Name of piece, Composer (include composer’s dates)
Performers (only need to be listed when performers change)
List movements by title or by tempo.
--->You may want to include a bio of yourself in your program. Check on on whether your concert presenter will print head shots and bios as part of program. If they don’t but you’d really like to include that, just supply those yourself. It is appropriate to include a personal bio and even your head shot, if desired.
Beginning of the School Year Action Items
1. Schedule a date.
2. Make initial communication with your accompanist.
3. Begin a list of rep ideas.
4. Set up a Recital project management plan using an online *project management software.
Action Items at the Two-Month Mark
1. Finalize Repertoire Selections
2. Select music that meets time requirements.
3. Send self-curated recordings of each of your pieces to your accompanist.
4. Schedule an initial read-through rehearsal with your accompanist.
5. Stoplight once a week.
Action Items at the One-Month Mark
1. Record yourself at least once a week.
2. Do weekly run-throughs of your program with your accompanist.
3. Schedule a dress rehearsal with your accompanist and private teacher.
4. Type up a program & obtain approval of private teacher.
5. Stoplight every 4 days.
Action Items at the Two-Week Mark
1. Dress rehearsal has been scheduled with accompanist, private teacher, and chamber musicians.
2. Let all of your friends know about your recital by creating an online event or making posters for the school bulletin boards.
3. Request or book any recording services you plan to use.
Action Items at the 48 Hour Mark
1. Coordinate getting a key to your recital space with the office (if required).
2. Schedule food delivery or catering for your reception.
3. Recruit a page turner if your accompanist requests it.
4. Write notecards for any speaking and program notes you plan to announce from stage.
5. Prioritize sleep and hydration!
It’s Finally Here! | Drink a lot of water, avoid greasy foods, take an easy warm-up, and go for a walk or jog. Arrive early to the venue for setup and prep. Remember that this is your opportunity cash in on all of the work -- this is the fun part! It will feel like a roller coaster and things will happen that didn’t before, but that’s a magical part of live performance and the thrill of that experience will leave you coming back for more!
After the Recital | Clean up any reception items immediately following your reception. Write any appropriate thank-you letters within two weeks.