017 – Recital Program Formats: Pros, Cons, Ideas, and Resources

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Episode Summary

Three formats we can use for our studio recital programs: print, digital, and verbal. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of each format and consider some good resources to help you.


Welcome to Episode #17 of The Piano Pantry Podcast! We’re going to get straight to the point pretty quickly today. In this episode, we’re going to talk through three different formats we can use for our studio recital programs: print, digital, and verbal. We’ll walk through some of the pros and cons of each format and consider some good resources you can use when it’s time to design your recital programs. Let’s dive in.

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.

I would imagine the large majority of us still create printed programs. If I had to guess a number completely, I would ballpark that 70% of studio teachers do print, 20% in a digital format, and 10% verbal. I could be wrong, and the numbers don’t matter anyway. The point is to recognize that just because printed programs are the most traditional and perhaps natural way we might consider crafting a program, there are other possibilities.

Let’s start with the most traditional, the printed program. Benefits might include each student getting to keep a copy for their school days memory box and students and attendees feeling like they can see the big picture as far as where you are in the program. Sometimes it is just nice to have something tangible to follow along. Also, having printed programs are an excellent way to create a “job” per se for students to do to be a part of making the recital happen. Engaging students in the recital process is something Christina Whitlock talks about in a guest blog post on Piano Pantry called The Varsity Musician’s Playbook. If you want to read about more strategies like this, I’ll post a link in the show notes.

That being said, here are a few of the potential downsides to printed programs. First, having everyone in the audience with a piece of paper or booklet in their hand can potentially cause unnecessary disturbance. My solution to this and something I believe I mentioned in last week’s episode, #16 on Recital Planning, is to print the program on cardstock. This means you will have to make sure it fits entirely on one sheet, front, and back. I’ve had many families comment that they thought this was a smart idea. As far as students keeping a copy for their school’s day memory box… I don’t know about you, but I tend to find too many of them left in student’s binders at the end of the year, so I’m not sure most people may value this potential “benefit.” The good thing is, you can decide for yourself. We’re just looking at all angles here.

If you like using a printed program, let’s talk about a few different tools for designing it. If you’re not super comfortable with technology, there are many sites that, over the past ten years or so, have been providing downloadable templates from simple formats to beautiful artistic designs. You might find some free ones, but most are available for sale. I’m not trying to be thorough here and am not getting any paid for advertising. Off the top of my head, places to look for templates like this would be sites like Color in My Piano, Compose Create, Leila Viss, Melody Payne, and Top Music Marketplace. I’ve used templates from several of these sites over the years. They’re easy to use and look beautiful.

If you enjoy getting a little creative yourself, then consider using a site like Canva to create your program. Yes, you could use programs like Microsoft Word or Publisher, but Canva makes design work so much easier than these programs anymore. It’s been years since I’ve used them myself. They have great templates in Canva with beautiful artwork. It’s very easy to drag and drop your designs and add text to things. So definitely consider enlisting Canva if you haven’t not already done so.

Our next program format to consider is a digital program. By digital versions, we’re talking basically about running a slideshow. While the majority of my recitals use print programs, I have also done digital versions. A lot of this decision regarding print vs. digital may be based on what the capabilities are in the location of your recital.

The benefits of this might be that you save the cost of printing programs and minimize paper shuffling during the recital, plus it can just look and feel professional having slideshow.

On the flip side, a slideshow doesn’t give you any perspective as far as how far along you are in the program. As an audience member, I know it’s nice to know how far you are and when your child will be playing. One way to remedy this would be to include a portion of text on each slide for up next. You could do this for just one student, or you could list 2-5 either along the bottom side of the slide or on either side. This would take a bit more work as you compile the slides but might be a pleasant and unexpected touch for your audience.

As far as creating a digital version of your program goes, like the printed version, I would highly recommend using a program like Canva. Canva not only has slideshow templates, but it also can play a slideshow directly from the program, just as you would from PowerPoint. The nice thing about this is if for any reason, you are running your slideshow from a computer that is at the location and they don’t have PowerPoint installed, you can play the Canva slide show directly from the computer browser once you log in.

You could either run the PowerPoint yourself with a handheld clicker or enlist a parent, or better yet, as we mentioned earlier, get the students involved and engaged in the process.

As I wrote this episode, I had a new little brainstorm on digital programs. I’m sure I’m not the first to think of this, but I’ve never done it myself. The idea is to create a QR code for a PDF of the program and print out a large sign with the QR code on it. As people enter, have someone stationed there to point out and help them if needed to scan it with their device. This would allow people to see the entire program without the paper shuffle or cost. Just an idea!

Since we’re considering the pros and cons of each, remember that not everyone carries devices. Think of all the grandparents that come. Perhaps you still do your printed program but offer the QR code for those who prefer that direction – I think that would be a lovely compromise!

Whether you’re doing a printed or a digital program, I’ll throw one more idea out there for you before we move onto our final format. That is, to hold a recital program cover artwork contest. If you’re in teacher Facebook groups at all, you’ve probably seen teachers sharing ideas like this, whether it’s for a recital program, studio t-shirt, or something else. It’s just a fun way to get students excited about and involved in the performance in more ways than one.

The final of our three recital program formats is the verbal program. There is no formal printed program at all, but each performance is preceded by a verbal announcement by either the teacher, each student, or a volunteer.

If you have an individual parent or student do all the announcements, be sure that they know how to pronounce everything correctly. I take the verbal program route at my smaller mini-recitals throughout the year rather than during a big studio-wide recital. One of the benefits is that it’s a good chance for students to practice their verbal performance skills by learning to project their voice, and speak clearly and slowly. Plus, it’s just another level of marking sure they are well-versed in the title of their piece and the composer’s name. I always have students practice this in their lesson the week before the recital, so they don’t feel taken by surprise 5 minutes before it starts.

The other benefit besides students stepping up a little more to give their own announcement would be that it requires little to no additional work to you and keeps things simple. If technology is not your thing and you’re pressed for time, I don’t think anyone would think it was unusual to have the students or yourself announce the pieces.

There are several forces that will factor into your decision on what kind of program to craft, including whether or not your recital location can present a digital program, what your comfort level is regarding the creation of the program, and what your goals are. Whatever format you choose, know there‘s no right or wrong way. There are only ways.

As I suggested in episode #16, just be sure that you take a moment following each recital to write down some tangible notes of reflection on what worked, what didn’t, and why so when the next recital comes around, you don’t have to put much thought into the decisions.

Don’t forget to jump into the show notes for links to The Varsity Musician’s Playbook blog posts on Piano Pantry. I would also love for you to give this podcast a review and rating over on Apple Podcasts if you could spare a moment. If you’re not already, jump onto social media and follow me on Facebook at Piano Pantry, or on Instagram at Amy Chaplin Piano.

We’ll head out of here as always with a fun little fact. In episode #2, I shared that my favorite thing to bake was cookies, and I gave you 5 of my absolute favorite recipes. Today I decided to reveal that I am 100% team Double-stuffed Oreo. I believe it is the only kind of Oreo that is worth eating. What about you? Are you team double-stuffed or team regular Oreo? Please don’t get me talking about all the crazy varieties. Let’s keep it classic here.

If ever you want to send me a message, know you can send a voicemail at any time through the link in the show notes. I’ll see you next week!