Recent music contests have gotten me remembering piano recitals from my childhood. I had two piano teachers. Miss Barkman taught me for 5 years. She was a quiet little lady, and I was a quiet little child. She had students go to contest, but I was shy and didn’t want to do that, so she didn’t push it. When I was in 7th grade, she moved to Florida and we found my second piano teacher, Mrs. Gilkey. She was as dramatic (“personality plus!” as my mom put it) as Miss Barkman had been quiet, and with her there was no saying no to contests or recitals – all her students did them!
She held a few recitals at her house, but soon her growing student volume necessitated a move to her church. These recitals were quite lengthly (at least in my memory), and she arranged the students from easy to hard. By the time I started taking from her, I was pretty advanced, so I was usually near the end. This was really bad for a child who was nervous to begin with. I would sit in the audience, listening as the pieces became harder and harder and realizing that I would be expected to play something harder yet! And memorized, too.
One year I remember playing a Bach Invention. It wasn’t all that hard, but each phrase was just slightly different from the last and it was really hard for me to memorize. I remember as a last-ditch effort writing a couple of measures of the piece on my hand in ink pen. Did it help me get through? I don’t even remember.
Another recital I remember my right leg (which I used to pedal) began shaking while I played. That was awful also!
I tried different techniques to remain calm during the 1.5-2 hour wait before performing. For awhile I brought crochet projects along; doing that helped distract me.
As my piece de resistance, Mrs. Gilkey wanted me to perform a recital all by myself. Yep, 45 minutes of music, memorized and performed by none other that moi. So, when I was a sophomore I memorized the first movement of a Mozart concerto (which Mrs. Gilkey accompanied on the organ), and then about 8 other pieces and performed them at my church on a Sunday afternoon for a small (but hopefully appreciative) crowd. I repeated this the next year, with different music (this year the concerto was Mendelssohn).
Even today I look back and am amazed that, at one time, I could accomplish that. I remember senior year begging off from memorizing yet another barnyard of music – it was just too much to do during that year.
So what have I learned from that? Mainly, I don’t require students to memorize pieces for recitals. I think it creates a much more relaxed environment for kids to be able to use their music (although I notice that some kids do memorize very easily and that’s great).
Were you ever in recitals? Did you enjoy it?