Here are 7 breakthrough ideas to transform your recital experiences, COVID conditions or not...
SuperNova SuperString Spectacular, a virtual showcase featuring NINE pre-college programs performing re-imagined, genre-hopping arrangements of Suzuki tunes, premiered November 14, 2020 (recorded access available through Nov 29 if you'd still like to check it out).
Though this world-premier event—more movie than recital—had a particularly unique function, part of my goal was to model a variety of meaningful innovations worthy of consideration for any recital.
1. LET THEM SPEAK!
Many traditional events feature no words, just playing. When there is speaking, the voice is typically that of the teacher(s).
But students have a lot to say.
Inviting them to talk can empower, inform, and inspire. Each SuperString "act" was tasked with two activities:
Offer a MUSICAL statement
Offer a SPOKEN statement
What these incredible students communicated verbally was just as meaningful as their performance.
The only constraint was DURATION: spoken interludes were limited to two minutes (around the same length as most pieces).
Content was up to them. Clearly, groups spent time carefully considering the optimal approach. It was fascinating to observe the different directions they took. All were captivating.
Various messages addressed:
Why they love music
What they love about their academy
What they love about the piece performed
Challenges/new elements their piece introduced
Stylistic performance considerations
Past experiences (tours, music camps, etc.)
Thanking health care workers
Life at home
How students fill their days during the pandemic
Incidentally, here are some things we did NOT hear: composer dates, bios, other historic data.
A soundtrack was added to support each spoken statement. Doing so brings propulsion, energy, and excitement, while introducing additional music content.
2. ROLL THE CAMERA
During a pandemic where social distancing is mandated and crowds are disallowed, music videos are the primary way performers share art.
Yet even if everything miraculously returns to the way things were, I advocate integrating video production throughout music education. After all, it provides:
A creative opportunity for custom designing personalized artistic statements, even if music is performed "authentically" as many others have before
A fun activity that engages students
A tool for analysis and critique
A platform for sharing with a larger audience
A powerful promotional item for studios/programs
A memento that can cherished for decades
Most (all?) of the SuperString programs had not previously produced videos (beyond filming live action on a stage). They were nervous about putting it together, making a cohesive statement, matching typical quality standards. Yet all took a chance.
Some hired a professional editor. Others relied on program alumni. In at least one case, the production mastermind was a 12-year-old student. Every group got it done.
The results were stunning. Each video is a true work of art.
Just as exciting, several ensembles concluded that the experience was so positive and community strengthening that video production will remain central moving forward.
Food for thought: Though SuperString videos featured groups, this is also a powerful individual assignment.
3. SHAKE UP THE STYLE
Historically, many music programs have offered an almost exclusively single-genre, classical music education.
To be sure, classical music is beautiful, varied, powerful, virtuosic, moving. It offers an outstanding vehicle for teaching technique and discipline and attention to detail.
But in our multi-cultural world, I fear single-genre educations too often result in one of two unfortunate outcomes:
Students who aren't top players largely abandon music study (around middle school), pursuing other activities that feel more relevant, fun, and aligned with their post-modern worldview.
Students who stick with music feel limited, only qualified to tap into a small portion of the great potential music offers.
SuperString performances presented around a dozen tunes drawing from just as many styles: calypso, boogie, Spanish Baroque, klezmer, funk. You could literally feel the excitement as students expanded their horizons. To quote one participant:
"I think it's really great we get to also experience all the other genres out there besides the classical music."
Beyond aesthetics, non-classical styles teach valuable and unique lessons. Consider rhythm. In most classical expressions, playing is relatively free, regularly weaving in and out of time. But popular idioms require GROOVE, lining up precisely with "the drummer." Both approaches help students grow.
4. DRESS UP
What you wear while performing impacts the audience experience and how you feel. It also presents a creative challenge for students.
Rather than prescribing a dress code, each SuperString group was invited to consider COSTUMING.
Collectively, they explored multiple distinct directions. Not only did they demonstrate just how many options are available, but also the value of incorporating VARIETY during an event (rather than dressing similarly for every piece).
Some approaches we saw:
Casual, everyday clothing
Branded studio items
Black pants, colorful tops
Facial masks as a costume item
Pajamas with a hoodie
Hats, bandanas, eyepatches
One student performed on a skateboard, a stuffed animal perched upon his head
One group listed a costuming team of five in the credits
5. MAKE IT VISUAL
Music is theatre. Concerts are not just something to hear, but also to watch.
Three SuperString ensembles presented stunning, fully choreographed presentations. Moving as you play cultivates coordination, multi-tasking, and connection between sight and sound. It also engages the audience.
Performing on video opens up additional visual opportunities. Several groups featured performers in interesting settings: playing in nature, harmonizing downtown, skating on ice.
Showcasing students as more than just musicians, we experienced glimpses into their everyday life. We met people's dogs and chickens, explored inside their homes, watched them play basketball.
Each video presented a unique visual approach. Just one of many noteworthy reasons this program was so engaging throughout.
6. EXPAND BEYOND STUDENT PERFORMANCE
Obviously, student recitals should feature student performers. But why not make recitals about GROWTH and DISCOVERY as well?
With such a captive audience, it is possible to spotlight teachers, guest artists, parents, famous musicians, different styles of music, other art forms, etc.
SuperString Spectacular integrated several performances by professionals. For jazz violinist Christian Howes's improvisation, I transcribed his solo and shared the notation.
We used Suzuki educator Rebecca Hunter's beautiful rendition of Etude as a vehicle for sharing a student photo montage.
Unlimited approaches are possible. Use your imagination to create intrigue.
7. REACH OUT
Most recitals represent a SILO: one studio, one program, one instrument, one genre. This often makes sense considering time and logistic constraints.
Yet recitals present an ideal forum for connecting your community with other programs, instruments, art forms, specialties, causes, values, traditions. To demonstrate that your students play an important role within a larger ecosystem. To emphasize that while violin study (or whatever they do) is important, it does not exist in a vacuum. To suggest that even in this strange moment of social isolation, we are part of a vast network, stronger together.
SuperString Spectacular partnered with nine pre-college programs. All offer incredible education and artistic excellence. Bringing them together allowed participants to experience the value that OTHER programs offer, while better comprehending what is unique about THEIR OWN.
I sincerely hope they feel they were essential characters in an event destined to propel music and music education.
THE INNOVATIVE RECITAL
For music teachers who organize recitals, consider the vast potential they hold. Whether online or in person, many valuable outcomes are possible with imagination and the courage to try something new. And because no single event can do it all, why not embrace a different focus for each production?
ART is way more than music performed.
It suggests the design of an event in its entirety. Make every performance count!
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