016 – Recital Planning Made Easy

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Episode Summary

Crafting a recital preparation timeline and checklist is a simple and effective way to make your annual event run smoothly from year to year.


Items Mentioned

The Best Chicken Soup You’ll Ever Eat


Why yes, teacher friends it’s THAT time of year! Whether you’re an independent music teacher or teaching at the collegiate level, we are in the midst of recital season. Once we cross over in to this season it can easily feel like we go from 0-90 miles an hour overnight.

Not only are we prepping students for their final performance opportunities of the year but we have to organize the events themselves. It doesn’t help that this is also the time of year we start to think about final student evaluations, summer lesson offerings, and yes, fall registration. Life also brings us Easter, Mothers Day, and end of school activities as well as signups for summer events, and vacation scheduling. No wonder it can feel more than a little crazy!

On the bright side, now that life is nearly (if not entirely) 100% back to normal following the pandemic, I expect many of us are welcoming all that life brings with thanks even when it seems to happen all at once.

In todays episode we’re going to have a chat about how we can approach recital planning with ease. It doesn’t mean there won’t be a lot to do, I’m not a genie in a bottle, but hopefully it will give you a simple way of tackling the recurring event in a smooth manner.

Welcome to the Piano Pantry Podcast where together we live life as independent music teachers. I’m your host, Amy Chaplin. In this space we talk about all things teacher-life related from organizing our studios to getting dinner on the table and all that comes between. You’ll get loads of easily-actionable tips on organizing and managing your studio while balancing life and home.

Let’s talk recital prep.

It took me quite a few years of running my own studio to figure out a good groove when it came to Spring recital planning. Since most of my venues were at churches the first difficulty was booking a location far enough ahead of time that you had a secure date and venue but not so far ahead that the location didn’t feel they could commit to the date before they scheduled their own events.

One thing that didn’t even dawn on me the first year was to also double check that the location had the piano tuned on a regular basis. Luckily we never had issues of a terribly out of tune piano but that was one point that I almost learned the hard way.

There are a whole plethora of things that we will encounter year after year when planning a big studio-wide recital. Today, let’s be determined to stop reinventing the wheel. That is, it’s time to stop taking up our mental capacities having to recall from year to year everything that needs done.

Friends, it’s time to sit down and write out a simple recital preparation timeline and checklist. This does not have to be a complicated document but will simply serve as a streamlined way of helping you track what needs done and when.

There are three parts to consider when putting together your own recital preparation list. The first is an actual timeline of what needs done when, leading up to the recital. The second is miscellaneous notes of reflection, and the third is a food-buying guide (that is, if you are the one who provides the refreshments).

Now, don’t worry about jotting all of this down, I will put a link in the show notes to a blog post on Piano Pantry that houses a free downloadable document outlining all the things we will talk about today.

Let’s start with the big one – that preparation timeline. You’ll want to start by outlining time-frames working backwards from the recital date. Consider items that need done the day-of, the day before, the week-of, 2-3 weeks before, 3-4 weeks before, 6-12 weeks, and 3-4 months.

Now, let’s start at that back end of that time-frame list and work our way forward highlighting a few examples of specific items in each timeframe. For the sake of having some context, we’ll go with my own timeline which leads up to a recital date the 3rd Sunday in May.

My first time-frame is 3-4 month prior. This includes things like securing the location and date including the rehearsal date if that’s something you do. I usually do this around February but of course this will depend first on when your recital is scheduled as well as what your community and venue requirements are.

Next is the 6-12 weeks prior. In this time-frame I like to confirm that the piano has been or will be recently tuned and plan student recital pieces. The time frame for student pieces of course that depends on individual student levels.

Moving forward we come into the 3-4 week time-frame which is when we should be looking for students to have their pieces mastered. If you do awards in your studio at all, 3-4 weeks prior a good time to get them all planned and ordered. For years I planned awards more like 5-6 weeks ahead but the company I order awards from is so quick with their turn-around I’ve realized it’s something I can wait to complete closer to the recital than I would expect.

If you do awards, I would also highly recommend keeping a separate document tracking your them from year to year. We’re not going to get into that topic in this episode but if you’re interested in learning more I do have a blog post on Piano Pantry called Studio Awards Policies & Procedures that I will link to in the show notes that can help you outline that document.

Our next time-frame is closing in on the actual recital date and that’s 2-3 weeks prior. This is when I like to layout the program and give students an opportunity to have a look at it during their final lesson before the recital. It’s an easy way to ensure you have everyone’s name and pieces correct and gives students a chance to see where they are in the order of things, helping build excitement for the event to come.

Side note here that even if you lay out the program 2-3 weeks prior to the recital, don’t 100% commit to the order and print it right away. If you do a rehearsal, there will often be little tweaks that pop up here and there. If you can, it will behoove you to wait until as late a possible to print your program.

Now we’re moving up into the week of or the week prior to the recital which is the heftiest list of course. It includes things like buying flowers and food as needed and deciding what you will say before, during, and after the performance. I also like to print out direction signs. I’m not necessarily talking about outdoor signs directing you to the actual location – although those aren’t a bad idea either – but more signs inside the building where the event is being held.

This is especially important if you’re in a larger church or building where it’s not super obvious where to go. Having signs up letting people know from the moment they walk in the door that they’re in the right place is a nice little touch for your guests. If you’d like to get a free printable of basic recital directions signs available on my site, you can get the link in the show notes.

Now that we’ve covered the first and biggest part of your recital planning document – the timeline and checklist, let’s talk about the second portion – writing notes of reflection. Think of this almost as a survey or audit of what’s actually occurred from year to year. This is the place to write “mental notes to self”.

What did you like? What worked and what didn’t? What’s something you want to remember for next year? Don’t rely on your memory – we have enough to remember up there. If you write it down, you can let it go knowing that all you have to do next year is open your recital planning document to hit the ground running.

Here are a couple of examples of miscellaneous mental notes I’ve made to myself:

  • Make sure during rehearsal you make note of when you need to insert or remove the pedal extender and who you need to turn pages for
  • Students really did well watching the program for who went next on their own. Maybe just have them sit by age or with their parents and then go up when it’s their turn rather than sitting in order of performance.
  • Consider having a parents at the rehearsal. One year I had a young student who had to go to the bathroom and didn’t make it – it would have been nice to have another adult around to help out.

It’s unbelievable what kinds of things you forget about from year to year. It’s so nice to have that little reminder.

The final portion of our preparation timeline and checklist somewhat overlaps with the miscellaneous notes of reflection. If you are the one who provides the food for your recitals, you will definitely want to consider keeping a food record from year to year.

I know there are lots of differing opinions on who should provide the food – the teacher or parents. My personal opinion has always been that I run my studio like a professional business and I want my parents to simply come to the recital and enjoy. They are busy enough – it can become too hectic trying to organize food donations. It’s a business expense for me and I can present refreshments in a way I like. If having parents do it works for you, great! You’ll still want to keep track of how much food you organize and use from year to year.

After more than 10 years of recitals, I have really gotten my food buying guide down to a science. You’ll want to write down not only how much you purchase but how many people it served and what was left. For example, one year I wrote something like:

  • bought a huge bag of pretzels and they only ate 1/4-1/3 of a bag. Next time just buy a regular size bag
  • Bought 70 12-oz bottles of water. Only used half. Definitely just get the mini size 8-10 oz bottles next time.
  • Ordered 7 Little Caesars pizzas for rehearsal – 4 pepperoni and 3 cheese. All the cheese was gone and I had a lot of pepperoni left. Next time keep it simple and just do cheese pizzas.

Similar to the notes of reflection – you’re going to want to be sure and write all of this down right away. It’s probably even best to write down what you purchase when you actually purchase it so you don’t forget how much you had. As soon as the recital is over and everyone is gone, jot down brief notes on how much food was left and roughly how many people stayed for the reception (perhaps you can even ask a parent to count heads when the snack time starts).

Well, who knew there was so much to say about preparations when it comes to recital time. Like many things in life sometimes in order to make things be easier and go smoother later down the line, it takes a little work up front. The end result in this instance though is that you can go into your recital season with less stress and freed mental capacity. Who wouldn’t like that?

Don’t forget to head into the show notes for links to an example recital preparation timeline and checklist document to get you started, a free download of recital direction signs, and a link to a blog post on designing your own studio awards policies and procedures.

If you found this episode to be helpful, I would be grateful if you would take a minute and head on over to apple podcasts to leave a rating and review. If you’re on social media, you can find me on Facebook at Piano Pantry and on Instagram at Amy Chaplin Piano.

For the historical record, the day I’m recording this episode, April 18, 2022, we woke up to quite a good covering of snow here in Indiana. The unseasonably late chilly weather is making me think of the fun fact that I do not really like chicken soup or chicken noodle soup. Call me strange but I have yet to find a version that calls my name. I don’t know if in general it’s just to bland or simple for me or what. The best one I’ve ever liked is from a website called Ambitious Kitchen. Just google The Best Chicken Soup You’ll Ever Eat and it will come up. It uses Israeli couscous instead of noodles which is kind of an unusual twist plus it’s full of good things for you like ginger and turmeric. Check it out or find me on social media and send me a link to one you like.

Until next time. Happy recital planning!