Why Recitals are Like Life Skills 101
Tuesday, May 10, 2016 | Uncategorized
Why Recitals Are Like Life Skills 101
Public performances and recitals are an essential ingredient in music education. Not
only do the student’s music skills benefit from the culminating event, it also has many
transferrable skills with life skills.!
Recitals are like so many things in life. It’s a due date when you need to really know
something well and you need to show it in public, in this case 100 of your friends,
families and peers. Think of the times when you had to present a paper or a case or a
sales pitch at a specific time and day. The recital is preparation for that. It’s a deadline.
Discipline and Mastery
Preparing for the recital is also like life. The discipline required to learn, memorize and
perform the pieces is the same discipline you use when you are in college working on a
term paper, at your job preparing the big powerpoint presentation to your clients,
presenting your court case to the judge and jury and so on. There’s a level of mastery
that needs to be achieved in a recital. Nowadays, it seems there’s less encouragement
or paths to mastery with all the instant gratification of digital downloads and games and
apps. We don’t let our children go 5 seconds before we step in to help them with a
frustrating problem. Mastery requires discipline and a commitment to “do it again...and
again.” Self-help guru Anthony Robbins speaks of the 10,000 hours it required to master
a skill. Malcolm Gladwell describes some greats including Bill Gates in Outliers:
The Story of Success!. It does take a lot of time, discipline and repetition to master
anything. And music lessons culminating in a recital is a training ground for discipline on
the road to mastery. Even better to start at such an early age!
Anxiety is a big part of any public performance. There was a survey somewhere I saw
that listed people’s top fears in order of worst to least. At the top was public speaking,
followed by death by burning! Incredible. Most people would rather die burning at the
stake than have to speak in public. A recital is a public performance and by repeatedly
going through the process, the anxiety lessens over time. 2 years ago, I remember a
number of students in particular looking rather ill before their turn. Now, those same kids
are still nervous, but it’s not the same panic attack level, rather a heightened level of
awareness with a confidence that they will fly through.
Mistakes will happen as in life. In fact, how often do things go exactly the way you want
them to? Almost never. Your goal is to minimize them. But you can never achieve 100%
perfection, you wouldn’t want to. To play like a machine is completely useless. It’s the
mistakes that make you sound human and gives you unique expression. As described
in a recent NY Times article about what makes music so expressive, researcher Daniel
J. Levitin at McGill University and Edward W. Large at Florida Atlantic University
recorded a concert pianist performing a Chopin etude analyzing it for speed, rhythm,
loudness and softness. They then recreated the performance with a computer stripping
it of any human variances, in other words, making it more perfect. They then scanned
the brains of listeners as they listened. The results? Perfection is boring.
Another thing discovered by these researchers is that music can give us emotional hits
by creating a subtle change from a pattern. In all of my lessons, I’m always showing the
structure lying underneath the piece of music we are working on. Whether it’s the grand
scheme of section A followed by section B or even just how the notes of one measure
actually are spelling out an F chord. It’s the same in real life. There’s an order and
structure to how things are put together, whether it’s a sandwich, a computer program, a
resume or a social network.
Possibly the best part of a recital is the immediate feedback from the audience. There’s
no waiting around for an acceptance letter in the mail, if you did well, you know it right
now! And if not so well, then you know that too. What’s great about our recitals is they
are safe space, a controlled environment as everyone is there rooting for you. It’s your
home court and we all want you to make a slam dunk! And if you don’t, we’ll empathize
with you and give you a hug too. It really doesn’t matter - you did your best. And there’s
always the next recital.