This year was my 6th Spring Recital teaching piano full-time. I’ve been teaching piano for around 16 years but only part-time up until the last 6 years when I opened “Studio 88” after getting my Masters in Piano Pedagogy and Performance.
Are my kids lovely or what? We were missing three this year but still had a good crew.
The last several years I’ve been trying to mix things up a bit to keep the big recital fresh and exciting. Everyone plays a solo the first half of the recital followed by a 10-minute intermission.
The second half of the recital changes from year to year. Two years ago everyone played a jazzy style and I explained to the audience before each style set what they should expect to hear. Last year we did collaborative pieces including duets, trios, and two pianos four hands (some pieces with a live drummer).
This year, we did a studio-wide collaborative project. I pulled out a book I’ve been itching to use for several years but didn’t have enough students at an early intermediate level to have performed them until now.
I’m going to share the process of pulling something like this together and also share a free download to help you plan your own production of this narrative suite.
The Magical Forest Narrative Suite
The Magical Forest- A Narrative Suite for Piano by Nancy Lau combines short narration with pieces. Each piece also has a representative drawing.
Pieces include: Entering the Magical Forest, Forest Fanfare, March of the Critters, Bear Dance, Waltz of the Deer, The Fairies Delight, Backwoods Bop, Woodland Farewell, and Leaving the Magical Forest.
Planning and Building Excitement
The first step was to poll my students to see how they felt about doing a studio collaborative project. I did this at their February group class and everyone, including my high school students, were excited – it was a go. I made sure they were aware this meant most of them would only be performing their one solo (they’ve always done two) as there were only nine pieces. Everyone else would participate as either a narrator, artist, or character.
The second step, after assigning the performance pieces to the students in my two oldest (and higher level) group classes, was to once again poll the students at the next (March) group class. Those interested in being a narrator had to “try out” at group class with the most animated soliloquists given the longer narrations. Curious artists put their bid in for their first and second choice pieces to draw and those preferring character roles also put in their first and second choice as well.
The third step was to assign roles, distribute pieces, narrations, and poster board for the artwork. Those who were characters didn’t have anything until the day of rehearsal. On a side note, I waited until three weeks before the recital to hand out poster boards and gave them two weeks to complete their picture.
Artists were given a copy of the picture included in the book and were told they could either replicate the image on a large scale or use it for inspiration for their own design. They were free to choose to do a simple pencil sketch or full-color drawing. (Looking back I should have probably required at least a dark outline because the pencil drawings were a little hard to see under the stage lighting.)
One of the pieces talks about fairies dancing, and I have two students who are ballerinas so they got together and created a dance they did on stage while the piece was being played.
The fourth step was to gather all the props needed. I wanted to keep it simple as we wouldn’t have a lot of rehearsal time. I thought headbands would be cute, but getting ones that looked good required more expense than I wanted to put forth. I simply scoured online for printable face masks which I cut out and taped to popsicle sticks and they worked great.
There were a few exceptions.
For the deer, we used a tie-around mask so they could dance the waltz and not have to hold a mask. I couldn’t find good frog and bird masks, so I just had them carry my stuffed animals I use with Piano Safari as they hopped (frog) and skipped (little bird) up on the stage.
The only prop that could prove tricky to find is the “acorn cups” but I was lucky enough to have three acorn votive candle holders I decorate with in the fall we used as our acorn cups.
You’re about to get to all the pictures!
Putting it all Together
At our recital rehearsal the Saturday morning before Sunday’s recital, we pulled it all together. It was a little rough so I had everyone come a little early before the recital on Sunday so we could run it one more time. It takes approximately 15 minutes from start to finish. During the performance, the audience was asked ahead of time to hold their applause until the end of the entire suite.
Performers sat on the stage near the piano so we could keep it moving quickly and the next performer would be the page turner. Artists sat on the other side of the stage and walked up and stood next to the easel their artwork was displayed on while the piece was being performed (they were responsible for rotating them). Narrators sat on the same side of the stage as artists and rotated as well – the goal was to keep it smooth and moving quickly with little down time.
I stood at the back of the room with the characters (mostly my youngest students) to direct their entrances. They went down the aisle “in character” at the designated time. Bears “stomped” quietly, deer locked arms and strolled side to side with long strides, little critters marched in a line, you get the idea.
They did two large circles (in character), on the side of the stage which was behind the piano (it was a large stage), then moved to the front of the stage and “bounced” lightly to the music for a few bars, then sat down on the large stairs at the front of the stage as the music came to a close. I had a high school girl sit on the first pew and help direct them when to stop and move which was extremely helpful.
By the end, all the characters had gathered at the front of the stage and then during the farewell piece, they stood, waved, and walked to the back of the room.
The feedback from families was wonderful – everyone thought it was incredibly cute. Win!
Entering the Magical Forest and Forest Fanfare
March of the Critters
Waltz of the Deer
The Fairies Delight
Leaving the Magical Forest
If you’re interested in trying this out in your studio, to make it a little easier for you, here’s a free download to help you plan out the program and all the roles. The document includes a prop list and is editable for your use.
Creating a Studio Community
This is a great way to create an environment within your studio where students feel they’re a part of something bigger than themselves. Learn more about creating studio interdependence and giving students roles in the studio in The Varsity Musician’s Playbook Part 1: Studio Interdependence.