Childhood Memories Friday: Piano Recitals

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?

7 thoughts on “Childhood Memories Friday: Piano Recitals

  1. I believe Mrs. Gilkey was an early piano student of Miss Barkman. The Gilkeys certainly played a role in our lives for a long while. Mrs. Gilkey used to say her husband was a genius. He continues to volunteer at the schools, despite the fact he is 94 and had cancer of the spleen last summer. He walks very poorly now and is extremely thin. Your piano recitals were gut wrenching for me, too. I have decided to not go the route of making students memorize for recitals. There is a lot more to life than playing the piano, although it has its place. Parents, especially, seem to love recitals. I recall as a child I had a recital pending. I was sitting in the kitchen coloring a picture and thinking . . . I wish there was SOMEWAY I could get out of being in that recital!

  2. I was in a dance recital. And recently i went to my nieces’ ice skating recital! I’ve been to lots of my four nieces’ piano recitals, and I enjoy them for the most part. Last year one of my nieces begged to be allowed to play the Pink Panther theme song with her toes!!! She wasn’t allowed, but there was a reception at my sister’s house after, and my niece played it for us with her toes there. It was hilarious, and would have probably been a big hit at the recital.

  3. I believe the question you’ve asked is if we enjoyed playing in a recital. I can unequivocally state the answer to that: NO. I can’t imagine any young child enjoying being in a recital. But you do live through them! I don’t know if I would have lived through having to memorize the music. Thankfully, I didn’t have to do that.

  4. I remember being in a tap dance recital when I was in elementary school. I did it for two years. I remember the costumes too. One was light blue satin with hot pink sequins. The other costume was red with silver sequins. The red costume had one long sleeve and the other side was sleeveless. The songs I dance to were “On the Sunnyside of the Street” and “Side by Side”. I danced on a big stage at the city auditorium. The first time performing I was so scared I couldn’t remember my dance steps. I also performed in a couple of school plays, but I won’t go into that. 😉

  5. Just now read this. I absolutely loved piano recitals! Just kidding!! I still remember being in Mrs. Gilkey’s bedroom with the other students waiting for our turn. Remember the year Kris forgot her song and just started playing something else? No one was the wiser. She never seemed to get worked up like we did. Those were the days!

  6. Kris, too, had her OWN recitals while studying with Mrs. Gilkey. Kris’s mother told me Kris’s first recital was harder on her (the mother) than going through a child’ wedding ceremony.

    She told me when Kris had her second recital (all Kris playing the music – no one else in the recital), she (mom) decided to just relax and enjoy it!

    I never got to that point.

  7. Susan, I remember the recitals quite well too. I remember Joshua Bell playing at IU in his tux and black tennis shoes.
    I loved going to Mrs. Gilkeys and sitting by the fire as Kathy had her lessons. It is remarkable that Mr. Gilkey is still teaching every day at the age of 94. It is sad that Mrs. Gilkey could not share this time with him. You have beautiful daughters and your menus sound delicious. we are snowed in and I am thankful I can stay home today. we were supposed to take lunch to Houston to a friend but that has been postponed. Love and blessings to you

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