Preparing for book graduation recitals

Tips on preparing for Suzuki graduations.

Preparing for Suzuki graduation recitals

One of the unique aspects of Suzuki talent education is the preparation of book recitals. After students have completed a book of the Suzuki repertoire, most teachers ask the student to perform a recital of some sort showing their mastery of the book repertoire. Often this is an informal affair; but some students (like my daughter) want to give a more formal recital. In her studio, the Book 3 recital is a significant event because students are asked to prepare 4-5 pieces from each of the 3 books. It is a chance to bring new techniques to older pieces. We’ve been preparing for such a recital for several weeks. Here’s what we’ve learned.

More focused listening

We do a lot of listening in our house. Most of our listening is ambient background listening of the current book. While preparing for a recital, we hone in on the repertoire that our daughter will be playing. I’ve written previously about making custom Suzuki playlists in iTunes. One of the uses for that technique is to make recital playlists. We arrange all of the pieces she’s going to be playing on the recital in order. While we’re doing work at home, we put on the recital playlist for an extra “dose” of listening to the pieces she’ll be playing.

More focused review

In general, our review plan is to do the current book in its entirety each day, while aiming to complete the preceding book twice during the week and the book before that once during the week. However, shifting into recital preparation mode, as the date grows closer, we focus the review more and more on the recital repertoire so that by the week of the event, she’s playing only the pieces on the program. Afterwards, we shift back into “maintenance” review. If the review has been comprehensive in the weeks before the recital, then little, if anything, will be lost by focusing more intensely for a couple weeks.

Back to the basics

With the goal of a polished presentation to friends and family, we spend a lot of our practice time working on the basics. How is the posture? How does the bow hold look? How is the left hand? As we hone in on a smaller number of pieces, we can spend more time on the quality of the setup.

Self evaluation

Our daughter loves to do mock performances and recordings. The recordings, in particular, give her a chance to step back and listen to her playing critically. From her listening work, she has a pretty good musical target to aim for. The recording takes the work of evaluation out of the “real-time” and lets us be more deliberate about it. I was elated one day when after recording the pieces, she wanted to make a sheet of comments on each piece as she listened to them. It shows ownership over the process of evaluation and self-improvement. Even without written commentary, it’s interesting to step back and listen to one’s own playing when you’re not in “the heat of battle.”

Participate in the planning

Completing a book is a huge milestone. Regardless of how long it takes to complete the repertoire in a book, children to should be proud of their accomplishment. Hosting a recital and helping to plan it is something that children can help with. When they do, it elevates the sense of importance which in turn makes it likelier that they’ll put in the extra effort to polish their pieces beautifully.

Working with an accompanist

As the recital draws closer, it’s a good idea to practice with an accompanist. Even just talking with the child about how to work with the pianist is helpful. Some things to think about are to discuss repeats, what to do it something goes wrong on stage and where to stand. It’s nice to have the child recognize the accompanist after the last piece to show appreciation. It’s also a good opportunity to talk about the musical structure again; so that the student can find her place again if she gets lost.

Graduation recitals are memorable events for Suzuki families. A little extra thought and preparation goes a long way toward making them an opportunity to showcase all of the hard work up to that point.

Written by:

Alan is the main practice partner and accompanist for a young violinist.