092 – Shake Up Your Holiday Performances

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Episode Summary

Do you struggle with finding suitable venues for holding recitals, or do you just feel like shaking things up a little in your studio this upcoming holiday season? In today’s episode, I hope to save you a little energy and brain power with a little more than a half dozen recital ideas, from large in-person events to small-scale, intimate recitals, online-type digital events, and more.


Items Mentioned

Episode 016 – Recital Planning Made Easy

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

Episode 091 – Equip Your Students for Holiday “Singalongs”

Christmas By Ear: 8 Tunes to Harmonize

Spring Recital 2018: Songs We Know

Favorite Hymn and Praise Books (and a Church Music Recital)

My Students’ 2020 Virtual Piano Recital: How-To Steps and How It Turned Out (Color in My Piano)

Beyond Measure Podcast Episode 9: Cheers to Holiday (ReConsiderations)

The 12 Days of Christmas Project: A Collaborative Video Kit



Do you struggle with finding suitable venues for holding recitals, or do you just feel like shaking things up a little in your studio this upcoming holiday season?

In today’s episode, I hope to save you a little energy and brain power with more than a half dozen recital ideas, from large in-person events to small-scale, intimate recitals, online-type digital events, and more.

For more support on recital planning, including organizing the event and program formats, listen in on episodes 16 and 17 – both of which I’ll link to in the show notes.

By the way, if you’re new around here, welcome! I’m Amy Chaplin, your host, although my regular listeners probably didn’t realize it was me today because my voice doesn’t sound the same. I’m powering through this with a cold that’s produced a hoarse voice. Unfortunately, they take me a couple of weeks to get over, so I just had to embrace it for today.

As a piano teacher with more than 20 years of teaching experience who has also put together more recitals than I can even calculate, I’m not one to keep doing things the exact same way year after year, so while I might do one type of event for several years in a row, I can guarantee you I probably won’t be doing it in 10 years.

Life’s just too short, in my opinion, to never try anything new. You know, if you try one of these this year and you don’t love it – great! Now you know. Try something else next year. On the contrary, maybe you’ll find something fun and unique that works for you for a few years. Then, I would encourage you to try something else to keep things fresh for you AND your students.

Let’s dive in.

Speaking of shaking things up, why not work in a bit of ear-training with those holiday pieces many students have so much fun with? I’m not talking ear training in a traditional sense – like hearing a minor third or perfect fourth. No, I’m talking about musical elements like recognizing the difference in duple meter, where the big beat is divided into two or triple, where the beat is divided into three, or hearing the harmonic root movement of chord changes.

In my book Christmas By Ear: 8 Tunes to Harmonize, students can play some of the most recognized Christmas tunes using chord charts or lead sheets. The chord charts encourage transposition by utilizing harmonic functions rather than chord names so students can pencil in the chords and create their own accompaniment patterns in their key of choice.

As we talked about in last week’s episode – number 91, even beginner students can use this book singalong style, playing the chord root movement while singing the melody, or you can work with them to play the melody by ear.

Here’s what teacher Sarah Sevedge had to say about Christmas by Ear:

This resource was phenomenal for one of my teen students who needed to improve their non-reading aural skills. She had a strong grasp of tonic, dominant, and sub-dominant chords already, but this excellent resource gave her the structure she needed to exercise those skills within familiar tunes. I would love to see more products like this using other ear tunes!! It’s excellent for students using traditional piano methods as well as those whose teaching is influenced by Edwin E. Gordon’s Music Learning Theory. Highly recommended and worth every penny.

Thanks to Sarah for taking the time to share her experiences using Christmas By Ear. Find links to this resource in the show notes.

I must admit, I do have one exception to my “rule” I so strongly touted in the episode intro. Yes, I have tried various recital styles and themes over the years, but my year-end spring recital tends to remain a staple for the most part. Students all do one piece – maybe two if they’re a beginner with short songs – and then everyone does a collaborative piece so they can play two pieces in the recital, but with everyone participating, it doesn’t get so long.

A lot of the recital formats and theme changes I’ve played around with over the years have been with performances that occur during the school year, whether it’s a fall performance, holiday one, or mid-winter.

Here’s the thing, though: no one is saying that you have to do that many performances because we all know that even if you choose a venue or format that’s low maintenance, as some are, I will share today, there’s still work involved. So, if you need to hear it today – here’s your permission to NOT host multiple performance opportunities in a year.

I hope, though, that some of these ideas may be a welcome change of pace or just what you and your students need for a little shakeup. Plus, while some are holiday-specific, all of the ideas were talking about today don’t necessarily have to be relegated to the holidays; use these ideas for other times during the year!

First up – buddy with other teachers. Whether you team up with one teacher friend or several from your local association – this is an especially great way for teachers with small studios or those who might have large studios but don’t require participation – to create a performance opportunity.

I have been lucky to be part of an association that had an arrangement with our local Von Maur department store to allow students on the 3rd Saturday of December to come and perform on the grand piano.

Only more developed players at the intermediate or higher levels were encouraged to play, though, to help meet the expected atmosphere of the store. I’ve always treated this as an honor for my more advanced students to be invited to play and otherwise did no other Christmas performances. It was not only a special opportunity for these students but was also an easy performance venue for me during the busy season.

So, see if there’s anyone you can team up with to do a joint event and make the work lighter for all involved.

The second idea is to connect with your community and perform for community-hosted events. Check-in with your local Chamber of Commerce or Parks and Recreation Department to see if any opportunities might work well for your studio to participate in.

For years, if I did any fall performance, that was the time I did fun theme recitals like “Songs We Know,” “Church music,” (By the way, I have blog posts about all of those theme recitals that I’ll link to in the show notes if you’re interested in pursuing something like that further.)

About five years ago, though, our community started a large downtown revitalization project that included tearing down an old building next to the courthouse to create an open outdoor area. A simple stage was erected with a beautiful art backdrop on the building behind it, and during the summer, they host craft markets on the weekend and other events.

I honestly can’t remember how it got started – if it was me contacting the Chamber of Commerce or them contacting me – but rather than a themed recital, we started playing during the outdoor craft market on Saturday mornings, the 2nd Saturday of September.

Around the same time, the community started a Christmas event on the 2nd Saturday in December called “Parlor City Christmas.” They shut down one of the streets and have all kinds of games, carolers go singing around town, there are trolleys and carriage rides, and the library gives away free wrapping paper.

By the way, while our town is called Bluffton, it was nicknamed “The Parlor City” over a century ago because its paved streets (a new phenomenon at the time) made the city “as clean as your parlor.” Of course, the parlor being the room in the house back then where guests were entertained and made to feel at home. I know that has nothing to do with this episode directly, but I just thought that was a fun fact.

Anyway, the library wanted to host a music event during this city-wide Christmas celebration in the newly remodeled space, which had a cool amphitheater-style seating area. They set up a digital keyboard, a sound system, communicate with several studios in the area, post a schedule, and boom. The work is all done for us. We just show up at our designated time.

The timing of this has worked out pretty well as I think the Von Maur event might be fizzling out. Plus, I like seeing the students getting to perform out in the community.

The third idea you might consider is to play at a nursing home or assisted living facility. I know the holidays is the time of year nursing homes get a lot of people coming, so when I first started doing this, I always did it in the winter in February or March. You never know, though – just check with your local assisted living facilities to see if they’re interested. If you do organize to go to a nursing home, double check there’s an instrument, and it’s in working order!

For my studio, this particular performance fizzled out with Covid, but I still think it’s a great place to take your students. When we perform at a nursing home, I always make sure the students go through the process of introducing themselves and their pieces. They have to learn to speak loudly and clearly, too, more than at any other event, which is good practice. I also encourage them to say hello to the residents who might want to visit before they leave.

The fourth performance setup you could consider this holiday season is to organize either solo recitals or mini recitals at your studio. If you’re doing solo recitals, students would prepare 5-10 pieces depending on age and level; they would be responsible for inviting a half dozen to a dozen family and friends; you book them in 20-minute slots and do several back-to-back.

The solo recital is a very intimate type of performance and encourages students to polish up a lot of pieces on their own.

Mini recitals also work well – especially if you don’t have any community opportunities or have difficulty finding bigger venues, as they can be hosted in your studio space. I generally do 3-5 students and keep these to immediate family only as I can only hold 12-16 audience members. Students play 1-3 pieces, and I schedule them in 45-minute slots. While they generally only last 20-30 minutes, the extra time gives space for clearing our driveway before the next mini-recital.

The fifth recital style you might do is an online video recital, whether it’s live or one you compile. This is one type of recital many of us would have never experienced if it wasn’t for the pandemic, but at least now, it probably feels less scary and more viable than we may have ever thought.

While there were lots of people sharing how-to’s for putting together online recitals, the first resource that sticks out in my mind is a blog post by Joy Morin on how she compiled a recital playlist on YouTube. I’ll post a link to that article in the show notes.

The last two items are perhaps the most unique and simplified ideas for student performances in the holiday season, and both come from two of my good teacher friends. Our anytime piano teacher friend Christina Whitlock shared in episode 8 of her podcast that she does digital Christmas cards. I’ll let you get most of the scoop from her, but essentially, you record each student performing one of their Christmas pieces and then create a digital holiday card they can send out to friends and family.

My friend Joy Morin published a fun resource during the pandemic for a group video performance project of the 12 Days of Christmas. My students and I did this, and it was a fun little twist during a hard time in life. Luckily, this project would be fun even in non-pandemic times. Luckily, Joy has laid it out in a detailed package to help you along the way.

This is an idea that really would work with any tune. You could even take multiple Christmas songs and have just a small handful of students learn a verse or a chorus and compile them. The sky is the limit.

Well, there it is, seven ideas that I hope inspire your holiday performances and others throughout the year:

  1. collaborating with other teachers
  2. connecting with a community event
  3. playing at a nursing home or assisted living facility
  4. setting up mini or solo recitals
  5. online live or video-compiled recitals
  6. digital Christmas cards
  7. collaborative song project like the 12 Days of Christmas

Before I leave you today, let me remind you of the power of singing songs together this time of year. Whatever performance setup you choose – IF you even do a holiday performance – remember – it’s OK also NOT to feel like you have to do performances every three months – but if you do – wrap things up before you send your audience off – with a little singalong. More on that in last weeks episode #91.

If you listened to last week’s episode of the podcast on equipping students to accompany holiday singalongs and listened in before noon the day it dropped, you likely heard the episode cut off abruptly without a tiny tip. That was a big oops on my part. I recorded the tip and missed adding it to the episode. I usually give everything a once over and even listen through it entirely before scheduling, but coming off of 2 weeks of vacation prior, I was publishing last week’s episode at 11:30 pm the night before. So, my apologies to you who missed it. I’ll give you the short version now, as well as this week’s tip.

Last week’s tip was to organize your groceries both in your shopping your cart AS WELL AS when you’re unloading them on the conveyor belt for checkout so that they’re easier for the cashier to pack into bags and, in turn, unload at home.

This week’s tip is for those of you who, like me, like your hot morning drinks like coffee or tea, but struggle to finish the cup before it cools down. Rather than microwaving every cup halfway through consumption, I like to keep an electric candle warmer on my desk – you know the kind that will melt the wax of a candle to make it smell rather than you burning it. I’ve been using one for years, and it works like a charm.

Thanks for being here, and I look forward to connecting with you again next week