Playing for the Joy of Others

All professional piano teachers offer their students many opportunities to play on recitals, festivals and competitions throughout the year. Most of these events require memorization and learning the music as perfectly as possible. Recitals are a chance to "show-off" for family and friends. Festivals and competitions are opportunities to play for a judge and receive constructive criticism, and sometimes earn medals or be declared the "winner." The motive for teachers is to get the student to prepare well, and the results sometimes are seen as a reflection of the skill of the teacher. Both teacher and students wants to sound their best, for themselves, as much as for the audience.

It can be stressful.

But what if the motive for performing is just to bring joy to others?

That can be meaningful and satisfying.

Occasionally, instead of scheduling two recitals a year to be presented in a recital hall, I instead schedule a community service event at a nursing home or retirement community. None of my performances are mandatory, but for this event I really emphasize to families that I only want students to perform if they are enthusiastic and understand why we are doing it. No temperamental artistes at this event!

Here are some ideas for preparing students and parents for this event.

No memorization.

Students play with sheet music, but are as well-prepared as they would be for any recital . (As a church musician, I always play with music -- why do we spend so much time training piano students to memorize, as if that is the only way to perform music?)

Choose pieces for your audience, not yourself.

Music from old movies or Broadway (Wizard of Oz), light classical music (Fur Elise or the Bach/Petzold Minuet in G), jazz or ragtime are all good choices. This is a chance to talk with students about why we are doing the event -- for others, not ourselves. We can play our own favorite piece another time.

Include audience participation.

Have a student play a familiar piece as a solo (such as Somewhere Over the Rainbow) then play it again and have the audience sing along. The student learns how to play with a large group and the audience has fun.

Piano students can sing and play other instruments!

I have several piano students who like to sing, so for those interested we learn a choreographed group song to start off the program such as Gershwin's I've Got Rhythm. Have siblings play percussion instruments along with the soloist. Twinkle, Twinkle goes great with at triangle, add maraca to a Malaguena. Students learn to play in an ensemble, and the variety is more interesting to your audience.

Prepare your students for the audience and environment.

Nursing homes can get noisy, with loudspeaker announcements, residents or aides talking in the audience, or a medical emergency. Pianos may be out-of-tune or be in awkward positions. Discuss those situations with the students, and just remind them to stay calm, and keep playing. Ask students to watch how the residents respond to the music. Some of my students have noticed residents moving their hand to the music, or tapping their feet, even when they seem to have fallen asleep! This is a good time to remind them how much the audience enjoyed having them come.

Students and Parents ONLY!

This event is for the residents, not extended family and friends. Parking and seating is limited, and the residents should get first place. Invite friends and extended family to the next event in a recital hall.

Music is performed in all kinds of situations. Performing at a nursing home or hospital is one way of taking some of the narcissism out of performing, and putting some thoughtfulness and kindness in to performing. You are never too young to learn you can make someone happy by sharing yourself and your music.

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