It feels like all three years of your bachelor degree lead to this moment, and in 45 minutes it’s all over. As Recitals come to a close for the year, the graduating class of WAAPA 2015 offer some helpful tips to the younger years at WAAPA who will have to present them in the years to come! So here it is… Advice to those preparing a recital, a short novel by Emma Adele Ashton (and co.)
Choose your repertoire very carefully. This can be difficult, as often when you’re choosing pieces that far ahead you have little way of knowing where your voice will be. Spend time with your teacher and others you trust mapping out a programme that will show you off to your best advantage, that won’t exhaust you halfway through, that will take the audience on a bit of an emotional journey, and that engages your imagination. Keep in mind you will almost definitely have moments of being fed up with your pieces, so choose things that you connect with enough that coming back to them again and again isn’t a chore. Try to avoid being overly ambitious, tempting though it may be… the old adage holds true: ‘do simple things well.’
Practice a lot. And work your recital the whole way through, again and again. In my regular practice I would often find I would get most of the way through preparing a piece only to realize I had barely run the whole thing all the way through. When I made a mistake, I tended to go back, work on it until it was right, and then move on. However, practicing without stopping is just as important! You really need to be able to get a sense of the wider journey of the piece, and test out your stamina. The same goes for your whole recital. You will find places where you can ‘coast’ a little more, and identify places where you really need to work hard. It takes discipline, but spending time in the practice room in front of a mirror running your whole recital again and again makes such a difference to how you perform on the day.
Choose your accompanist wisely. When weighing up all the factors to do with selecting the right accompanist, it’s important to consider engaging someone who not only knows the repertoire really well and is a good player, but also someone who has the ability to make you feel safe and supported, and confident in your ability to perform well (for these reasons I can’t recommend Tommaso enough!)
Start saving money early! In a similar vein to the last topic, don’t underestimate how much the recital will cost. Certain decisions you make can help cut costs, but you need to weigh up your priorities… i.e. is it more important to you to spend money on nice paper for your programs, or a more expensive gown/suit, or both? There are no wrong decisions really, but thinking about these things is important. Sit down early in the semester and map out all the expenses involved, right down to the cost of printing the programs (which can surprisingly cost hundreds), flowers, and thank you gifts, and when they need to be paid for. It’s hard to avoid extra costs, but planning ahead so as not to shock yourself really helps!
Get program notes done early. As soon as you know what your pieces are, start doing background research. I would recommend doing this anyway, no matter the circumstances, but having the last-minute pressure of trying to sound intelligent on paper while you’re worried about 1,000 other things in the last couple of weeks is a nightmare! I ended up making myself a form to fill out for all my pieces, which had spaces for information about the composer, the author of the text, musical features of the work etc. Once I had filled this in for each piece, I felt I had a thorough enough knowledge of what I was saying to take the most interesting parts of the forms and condense them into a neat paragraph with nice connecting sentences.
Plan the planning! It really helped me a few weeks out from the recital to spend some time making a mind map (something I’ve rarely done since primary school!) of all the things I needed to think about, from revisiting the accompaniment on a couple of pieces, to who was going to help with front of house, and what did I want them to wear! This helps you get some peace of mind, knowing that you’ve thought of EVERYTHING. I could then use that mind map to cross things off as I went, and as a basis for making other lists. Whatever method helps you to feel organized is worthwhile taking the time to do.
Try meditating, visualization, and silent practice. This is something I really regret not doing more of. In an ideal world, I would have sat down and meditated for a few minutes each day, and my stress levels and focus would have been much more in control. In addition to that, visualizing how your recital will go, and how you will perform things is really helpful in terms of getting some clarity and testing your memory.
Prepare for the unknown… following this, I would say the thing I was least prepared for was how ‘personal’ the recital performance experience would be. The recital is all about you- there’s no character to overshadow you, and you can pretty much see everyone in the audience, and they’re often people from many aspects of your life. Spend time picturing this and thinking about how that will feel on the day, so there’s less chance of it throwing your focus. Try to bring your attention back to the stories you’re telling these people- they really do want to hear! A positive spin on this particular aspect of recital performance is that this is one of the few performances you will do in which the entire audience is on your side, proud no matter what you do, and genuinely cheering you on! It’s a unique and special experience.
Realise that no matter what, the lead up to your recital will be pretty stressful… surround yourself with supportive, loving people who get it! There’s no way I know of to prepare to be stressed… of course the usual advice of eating healthy, trying to keep up some kind of not-too-strenuous exercise routine, and getting enough sleep is of course super-important. Keep in mind that there will also be other exams and assignments to think about, as well of all of life’s usual happenings. There’s really no substitute for having people around who make you feel positive and supported, and are willing to lend you a hand when you need it, and give you space when you don’t!
Written by Emma Adele Ashton
So… how do you feel about the Recital process now? The writers at The O Word realize that recitals are different for everyone and so have also attached the advice from other graduating class members at WAAPA…
“I would say having fun makes it so much easier. Remembering that everyone is there to see you do well. And put a relatively easy piece first so you can get used to the atmosphere.” Alistair Barrow, Trombone
“For anyone in general (mainly lower years), please don’t ask “HOW’S YOUR RECITAL PREP GOING?” every time you see someone who’s doing a recital…Please! That just made me awkward and nervous.” Nat Czernicziw, Bassoon
“Organisation, sleep, believe in yourself and have fun!” Jennifer Clarke, Contemporary Vocalist
“My advice to anyone who has a recital to complete is to remind you that stress is redundant, evil in fact! If you feel stressed don’t dwell in that feeling; instead put your energy into being productive! Stress is detrimental to you throughout your preparation process, try and stay calm and remember that if you set daily, weekly and monthly goals you will have peace of mind, all you can do is prepare to the best of your ability. If you focus on improvement and growth rather than succumbing to negative self talk, you will be more likely to have a relaxed and happy day once the recital date has arrived! Stress is normal but we can avoid it through mindfulness, instead of allowing it to consume us. Remember to avoid stress, plan ahead, write checklists and goals; chip away at them, and I promise you will thank me!” Monique Flanagan, Mezzo Soprano
“Just have fun! Despite it being graded, the recital is a celebration of your hard work over the last three years. I was so happy to have been able to share the final part of my journey with my closest friends and family, who turned out to be the most supportive crowd. I didn’t sing at my personal best; but I gave the audience a journey through the music I performed, which they loved, and that’s what performance is all about. My recital was probably the most fun I’ve had performing on stage by myself yet!” Katherine Goyder, Soprano
In the days coming up to the recital, make sure you put your health as your priority. Sort out all the non-important stuff in the weeks before so the final week before you have all the time to just focus on your recital. I would say a healthy diet, some exercises and regular breaks away from the instrument is good. Also set yourself a little reward whether it be a little holiday or a night at your favourite cocktail bar.” Timothy Holland, Piano
“Give it your absolute all. Trust your repertoire, trust your technique and trust your musicality. You will shine if you believe in what you are doing, no matter what goes wrong.” Louis Hurley, Tenor
“Think about the recital that YOU would be really proud to put on, don’t try and make your teachers proud or anyone else, just do it for you. A number of years at music school can blur your musical identity, and your passion for music in the first place, so if you’re feeling unsure about yourself, just go back to your roots. Choose repertoire that you identify with and absolutely love, and when the big day comes, perform it in a way that makes you happy. Don’t worry about what other people think, just trust yourself completely.” Milly Jones, Soprano
“Have fun! While you’re up on the stage remember that you are there to entertain people. Sure it’s an assessment, but if you’re up there not having fun, and not entertaining the audience, and just thinking “what are the assessors going to think?” You’re probably not going to do very well.” Magda Lisek, Soprano
“Practice stuff until it’s comfortable at a much faster speed than it needs to be. Don’t poop yourself on or off stage.” Jasper Miller, Jazz Drummer
“I guess the main thing for me is that whilst it might be the first time you’ve done an almost-hour-long program of music by yourself a graduation recital is still just you on stage doing what you do (which is making music), and it’s not even really in an environment conducive to doing that well (you’re being graded, so you’re often inevitably appealing to examiners or to institutional requirements/expectations even if you’re still creating with sincerity). So don’t feel pressure to a) blow it up with expensive programs, posters, photoshoots etc., b) do anything massively ambitious or beyond the call of duty for the sake of it or c) do anything other than what it is that you like doing as a musician. It’s just another gig – not the beginning (or end) of your career. Enjoy it for what it is, take part in the ‘recital culture’ of applauding your colleagues til they come out for a second bow every time and be within the exciting milieu of a group of musicians reaching a landmark together. But remember that you’ve got the day after your recital to think about as well, and that there’s a lot of infrastructure in place to support you developing and realising projects that are even more ambitious than a university-facilitated and strictly timetabled recital in an institutional venue with zero funding given for auxiliary stuff like full colour programs and press releases. Think about where your focus should be and take the recital seriously because you should take every presentation of your own music seriously, not because it’s the most important gig of your career and needs your overwhelming financial, emotional and physical attention – it isn’t and it doesn’t!” Josten Myburgh, Composer (Honours)
“(For composers especially) – treat your ensemble super well, be hyper organised and make sure they get something out of your music while having oodles of fun in the process. That’s what makes people want to keep playing your music.” Tim Newhouse, Composer
“Don’t stress/do the work before one week before!! Practice!! Have fun!” Thomas Robertson, Percussion
“Treat it like just another gig. Your friends and family won’t care if you make a few mistakes. Focus more on the performance story as opposed to technical perfection. If you’re engaged and in the moment your audience will be too.” Oliver Royer, Piano