So You Want to Play a Recital?
By Mark Nelson, Associate Editor
Since the early 1950s when the first serious body of literature for the solo tuba began appearing, the solo recital for the tuba and euphonium became a real possibility. The 1960s brought an explosion of new literature featuring the tuba and euphonium in a variety of solo capacities such as the solo with keyboard, solo in a chamber music setting, unaccom-panied solo, and solo with electronic accompaniment to name a few of the more usual settings. Since that time period, thousands of solos have appeared over the last thirty years and many composers are now regularly writing for the tuba and euphonium in a solo capacity. The focus of this article is how one might plan for a solo recital from beginning to end within the context of the venue the recital appears in, the preparation, execution, and post-recital phases, repertoire consider-ations, and what resources are available to plan a recital with.
If one takes the time to peruse the program notes section of the ITEA Journal over the last thirty years as a glimpse into recital practices of tuba and euphonium players, one finds that the majority of reported recitals are of the student variety. Indeed, once could argue that the majority of solo recitals over time would probably always be student-oriented as long as recitals are required rites of passage for budding performers and educators. These recitals often follow a predictable pattern of the “half-recital” which is shared with another performer often done as a junior-level recital requirement for the under-graduate performance major or as a music education major. Another type of student recital is the “full-recital” consisting of a single soloist performing for upwards of an hour or more. A variety of students at different levels of difficulty through the doctoral degree use this type of recital. This type of recital is also used by profes-sional performers such as college and university instructors and a variety of professional performing musicians. These recitals often contain literature written or arranged by the performer and often are showcase performances at a university recital series, a professional conference, or as part of a touring schedule.
Recital preparation is a time-consuming process that for the student, may take upwards of a year to complete prior to the actual recital. Learning the logistics of the performance hall, marketing the recital, working with an accompanist, and record-ing the recital are only some of the many challenges facing the performer.
As with any performance, the first step in preparation is to select a performance date and location. Colleges and universities often have a calendar process for the teacher and student to complete for the performance spaces suitable for recitals. In this regard, timing can be everything to get an optimal space. Fall and early spring recitals usually have more choices of times and spaces than the April or May recital when everyone is trying to graduate! Some large universities may have upwards of fifty or more required student recitals in a particularly busy month. Plan well in advance to get the date and location you want. For younger players in a secondary school, working with the band or orchestra director for a performance venue is critical to securing a performance date on the master school calendar. Outside of academia, any suitable performance location such as a church, library, civic center, city or county meeting halls can be potentially good sources to investigate. Selecting a location is only half the battle. The other half is investigating the sound properties of the performance space for the soloist. Is the hall live or not? Does the ceiling enhance or detract from the sound? Are there sound altering properties of the space such as movable curtains over the walls, availability of portable sound shells, a deep enough stage to experiment whether the soloist should be placed up or down stage, and so on. These experiments often take time but are well-worth the effort to maximize the clarity of the sound of the tuba or euphonium to the audience. Other experiments need to be conducted to determine the optimum balance between the soloist and pianist, with any chamber musicians, and between the soloist and the electronic playback part should that type of composition be performed. Have your teacher help you determine where the optimum placement of you as a soloist should be and have several sets of ears listening to balance and blend before writing down your preferences to the stage manager and/or to yourself as to what works best. Check out the resources available to you. Ask questions about such items as rental fees, availability of materials like microphones and playback equipment, and the frequency and date of the last piano tuning prior to the recital. The smart recitalist knows what is available and under what terms. For a local venue outside of school, ask other musicians who have played there what it is like. Shop around.
A particularly difficult planning stage of your recital can be working to get a good recording of the event. Today’s market includes a variety of playback options such as cassette tape, DAT tape, CD-R and CD-RW as well as hard disk recording. The type of playback may be predetermined by what is available. Microphone placement and recording levels are more elusive to determine. There is an excellent article in the Tuba Source Book on recording the tuba that every recitalist should read. Taking the time to try different microphones and placements is probably second in impor-tance to having a recital at all. Try different locations and settings until you can get the most natural sounding play-back possible for the conditions of the hall and the choice of equipment available. Once the event is over, it is often possible to turn the recording into a CD or other reproducible recording with some basic computer software and a CD burner. High on the list of recital recording recipients should be the living composer whose music you played. Also, having a good recording of a manuscript piece is now essential to getting the work published with an organization such as Tuba Euphonium Press, Cimarron Music and
Productions, Solid Brass, Wehr’s Music, and other publishing houses that have solo tuba and euphonium music. Working with your accompanist is also something that takes much planning and time to prepare for your recital. Staff accompanists are usually very busy in various cycles of multiple recitals. Getting your music to them as early as possible makes their time with you more productive. Know the piano score well by purchasing an extra copy for you to mark up and listen to in addition to the copy the accompanist will have. Carefully work with your teacher to get ideas about how the accompaniment should go so that you can convey that meaning to your accom-panist during your rehearsals. Be sensitive to their needs which sometimes includes a lack of preparation at the first rehearsal due to other engagements that may have a more pressing timetable but also take charge of detailing how it should go with specific suggestions for interpretation so your time is not wasted merely running over the material once or twice prior to the performance. Professional recitalists, particularly at conferences or recital series at a university, often only have a rehearsal or two with their assigned accompanist. Making the most of the short time together by having a total perspective of how everything goes is a must for a successful performance.
Marketing your recital can be a daunt-ing task. Most student recitals are taken care of by the school publicity people and typically include at best a one-line announcement in the school newspaper and local paper if that. Sometimes an electronic announcement such as a web site with the season listed or an e-mail announcement to friends and alumni are part of the school publicity package. Doing more than that minimal level of publicity requires time and tenacity. Write a press release detailing in short sentences the event, why it is different and exciting, and include one or more photos suitable for a newspaper article. Often the local PBS radio station or school radio station will give free public service announce-ments that could include your recital. Arrange to interview with a reporter or a radio personality as a way of advertising. Come up with a snappy poster and letter of introduction you can mail to local high schools, amateur bands, churches, and other members of ITEA to generate an audience. Marketing is often time-consuming and difficult but it also pays off in the longer run with generating new audiences who have not heard our instruments in a solo setting before.
Once a location and date have been set, the next item to tackle is the repertoire. There are many ways to approach what is played on a recital. Sometimes the recital literature is selected entirely by the instructor. When helping to choose repertoire for my own students, I try to balance the educational needs of the particular student with the need to perform standard literature for the instrument and different kinds of literature. Typically, my students (and myself in recital) would have one or more original or arranged solo plus accompaniment type of compo-sition, an unaccompanied work, and when possible, an electronic playback composition, and some kind of chamber music from a duet to brass quintet and everything in between. Each kind of repertoire has its own unique sets ofchallenges that are beyond the scope of this article. Interested readers should consult the Tuba Source Book and various euphonium literature guides such as the Euphonium Guide by David Werden for appropriate literature that is currently available.
For the professional and for those performers whose repertoire choices are not prescribed by school requirements and their teacher selections, other choices are available. These include but are not limited to a recital of works of a single composer, an all arranged and transcribed music recital, a recital of a specific type of genre such as all electronic or all unaccom-panied, and a recital of original music composed specifically for the performer. There are now several tuba and euphonium composers with enough original and transcribed music for a full recital. Some of these composers include Walter Ross, James Grant, Neal Corwell, Barton Cummings, Walter Hartley, and Art Frackenpohl to name a few. Other choices include an all transcription and arrange-ment recital that puts the euphonium and tuba in touch with other instrumental and vocal repertoire. However, since our repertoire collection is still in its relative infancy, I would urge all recitalists to always consider a portion of their recital to include original music and preferably repertoire of living composers. How else can we continue to offer composers opportunities to continue writing new music for us?
Additional considerations of repertoire include timing, difficulty, program order, and program notes. A typical recital often consists of between 50: 75 minutes of actual music. Include time for stage changes and an intermission, and one has approxi-mately an hour and a half of time for a recital. Some professional recitals may bridge the two-hour mark but that is rare, even at international conferences. The difficulty of the repertoire is often hard to judge when taken in the context of performing a recital. My personal “rule of thumb” is to have a variety of challenges in a recital but vary the complexity of the selections. What has proven successful for many of my students and myself is the following “formula:” Begin with a strong opening piece that the performer is very confident with. It should grab the audience’s attention and immediately set the recital stage for success. The next selection or two are usually the “heavy” pieces that are often very modern in multiple movements or unaccompanied in nature, or contain more esoteric material. A strong and perhaps showy piece just before intermission would complete the first half. The second half can contain ensemble music, an electronic playback piece, a lighter theme and variations style virtuoso work, or another heavy work. One should always end with something that will give the audience a good impres-sion of your best work such as a virtuoso theme and variations style composition or a standard repertoire work with a fast and showy ending. Typically, five or six compo-sitions would comprise a full recital. Other important considerations concerning the placement of repertoire on a recital include fatigue, amount of face-time on the instrument, and the typical register of the composition for the soloist. Pacing the recital by scheduling a solo plus accompaniment piece after an unaccom-panied work and a lower range selection after one with a sustained high register helps to preserve the soloist’s stamina and helps reduce fatigue during the recital.
Program notes are another source of preparation for a recital that can help audiences appreciate the repertoire we perform. These notes can be formalized, typed, and handed out prior to the recital. They can also be aural in nature and communicated to the audience before each selection. Program notes can also be quite entertaining if coupled to an anec-dote or story associated with a specific piece of music. Formalized program notes should at least list the title, composer, and composer dates. Information on the first performance, the person it was written for, the formal scheme of the composition, background on the composer, and so forth, constitute valuable information when known. Some sources to consider for program notes include Gary Bird’s excellent book, Program Notes for the Solo Tuba, published by Indiana University Press. My own book, The Tuba as a Solo Instrument: Composer Biographies, published by Tuba Euphonium Press has “thumbnail sketches” of many of our composers. Check the reference section of your school or public library for standard references on composers such as Baker’s or Groves as well as books on 20 th century composers. The Heritage Encyclopedia of Band Music: Composers and Their Music by William H. Rehrig (Integrity Press, 1991) has many composer biographies listed who also have written for tuba. Another excellent source for modern composer biographies is Ruth Anderson’s Contemporary American Composers: A Biographical Dictionary, 2nd Edition (G.K. Hall, 1982). Internet searches using keywords of the title, composer name, and publishing company often yield surprisingly good up-to-date information on dates, biographical infor-mation, and even web pages chronicling past performances of a particular work. The more information one has, the easier it is to formulate appropriate notes for the recital. Bear in mind that aural notes may require a glass of water on stage to help moisten your throat after talking about a particular piece prior to its performance. Other considerations of aural notes include being comfortable in front of the audience and speaking clearly and slowly enough to be understood in the hall. A microphone may be necessary to carry your voice and a practice run for your teacher and/or peers is advisable if you have never tried speaking in front of an audience.
Once the preparations are done for the recital, the task of actually performing should be much easier. Devoting the last few weeks prior to the recital for running it in its entirety without stopping during daily practicing is a must for all but the most seasoned of professional performers. Knowing each piece is not enough in itself. Knowing the context of how each piece fits in the total recital is. Anything can happen and often does from relatively benign things such as a missed page turn by the accompanist or a missed note by the soloist to a total breakdown requiring a restart of a composition. The seasoned performer has a certain level of confidence that things can be made right no matter how often glitches turn up. The first-time recitalist can be terrified of performing in public to the point of being physically ill prior to the performance. My solution has always centered around three important aspects of any performance. Convey the composer’s intentions by knowing the music well. Build a relationship with the audience early on by relaxing with themduring the performance. Exude confidence when performing. There are no magic solutions to any of these maxims. Exper-ience with performing recitals makes each new recital easier to accomplish. Relying on your training during the recital helps the performance go on if there are problems with confidence. Having fun performing a recital often helps the event be successful.
Follow up your recital with thank you notes to performers, your teacher, and other people who helped you, which should also include a nice gift to your accompanist in addition to any fees you owe. Make sure to mail or e-mail your program to the ITEA Journal to be includ-ed in the next Programs column. The e-mail address (email@example.com) and mailing address for the current Program Editor is found on the front page of every issue and also online on our web site www.tubaonline.org. Be sure to also mail programs to any living composers you performed. Composers need to be informed that their music is being performed as they can also often use this information for their request for payments from ASCAP and BMI as well as for academic promotions and salary increases should they also be in academia.
Recitals featuring the tuba and euphonium are increasing with frequency as our chosen profession advances in the areas of repertoire, more students studying these instruments, and more performance opportunities being available with each passing year. The solo recital has come into its own over the last forty years for our instruments. With planning and hard work, we can and will continue to advance the profession in this important venue. Using these guidelines for prepar-ing your recital is one step towards building total musicianship conveying the breadth and possibilities of our instruments.
About the Author
Dr. Mark A. Nelson has been performing solo tuba recitals for over 25 consecutive years. He has premiered nearly thirty works for solo tuba and recorded many of them on two solo tuba CD recordings, New England Reveries and Aboriginal Voices, available at many outlets such as Walking Frog Records, TAP Music Sales, and Amazon.com. His doctorate in solo performance was granted at Arizona State University where he studied with Daniel Perantoni. Other teachers include Barton Cummings, Charles Hansen, Ray Nutaitis, and Roger Bobo. He is the Chair of Performing Arts and Director of Bands at Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona. He is also the longest serving associate editor of the ITEA Journal now in his 18th consecutive year and currently the Editor of New Materials. Previous appointments include Professor of Music at Millikin University, Associate Professor of Music at the University of Vermont, and Principal Tuba of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra.
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