Written by Fiona Lau.
We all know that we should do them but the thought of planning and putting on pupil concerts fills us with absolute dread! However, the positive results from the actual event can last for weeks afterwards. They also have a massive effect on pupils’ playing and progress. In his book, Improve Your Teaching: Teaching Beginners, Paul Harris suggests we cannot start incorporating performances into pupils’ learning too early.
The first step is deciding on the venue. You may be lucky enough to have a home or studio large enough for an audience. Some of us don’t and finding a suitable location is vital. My criteria for a good venue are: a good piano, an easily reached location, available parking, a decent size, and it must be cheap or free. I use my local Salvation Army Hall and cannot sing their praises highly enough; they’re brilliant.
Then comes the choice of “when”. It could be end of term; end of the academic year; or Christmas (an obvious theme but everyone loves a carol or two). The important thing is to let everyone know and remind them many times in a thousand ways.
Start discussing choices with your pupils as soon as possible. Say things like “that would make a great concert solo”; “it would be shame if no-one else heard that piece” etc. I also drill pupils in concert etiquette – walking on stage; adjusting the piano stool; introducing their piece; bowing (bow and say “what’s that on my shoe?” before coming up). To practise performance skills and dealing with nerves – Charlotte Tomlinson’s new book, Keep Calm and Pass Your Exam has some very practical ideas on this subject. Start to talk to your students about what makes a musical performance, as mentioned in The Piano Teachers’ Survival Guide by Anthony Williams. It’s also good make sure that parents know what concert behaviour expectations are.
There are some great USA teacher sites for invitation, programme and certificate templates. Alternatively, you could be more relaxed and informal. The important thing is the playing. The programme can include everything from beginner teacher/pupil duets to Chopin Nocturnes and can be printed off or informally introduced.
My biggest top tip is to get some help on the night: a welcomer; refreshment providers/ servers; someone to help set up etc press them all in to service. Concerts are a great opportunity to meet the parents you don’t often see; see how your pupils react in a performance situation; present awards and certificates; for pupils and parents to hear more advanced pupils play; for pupils to experience applause; and for you to gain a positive perspective on what occurs in lessons.
After the concert pupils are often buoyed up by their experience and more self-confident. It is possible to build on this and remind them of it in the weeks to come. Pupil concerts can be hard work, but they don’t have to be massive and formal; simple and relaxed is often more successful. Try it, these are the experiences that your pupils will remember and talk about in the future.
A small, accessible, cosy volume, featuring original illustrations, with some pearls of wisdom for those taking a music performance exam, particularly those who suffer from nerves when performing.