Tips for Tuba Volume TTXC: Studio Recital? Yes!
by David Porter
It is common knowledge amongst teachers that music students need goals to strive for improvement. Most often this is accomplished through having regular concerts, solo and ensemble competitions, festivals and in-class tests such as scales and ensemble music. Let’s not forget the annual chair auditions that happen in the education systems. All should be enough to help young tuba students grow and improve, yet I propose that one other goal be added in—the studio recital. I often see college studio recital programs in the ITEA Journal but not very many young student or private studio programs. With all of the goal processes in place we might ask—why? Here are some thoughts.
- Having a recital will focus attention on just the tuba or euphonium student
- Recital music can be very challenging, more than in any other place
- Most important—a recital gets the whole family involved with the student’s music
This last point I will come back to and is perhaps the single reason that young students can flourish and succeed in learning to make music. Here are some details about each of the above points.
Young tuba students can receive great benefit from the aforementioned ways of motivating them to improve (tests/auditions), but, even so, they are part of a process where individual reward and attention are from a system set in place by judging panels, results posted on walls and very little direct recognition from the families. The solution I am suggesting is the studio recital. Here they get to work up a solo with or without piano, play it for pleasure and not a grade, rating or placement, and play in front of family and friends. Additionally, the recital can be set late in the academic year at the convenience of ensemble and family schedules. This gives the student something additional to work on and improve their playing. The recital can be less pressure and more for fun of just going through a meaningful process of performing in public. The only deadline for a studio recital is the actual recital date. Although there is money involved if using a pianist and/or ordering music, there is usually not a deadline months in advance of the recital. Studio recitals can be video or audio recorded for the student’s feedback use. Over the years, I have experienced a noticeable difference in a student’s ability to play well the next fall based on the fact they did the studio recital. Ensemble directors can use the studio recital piece to feature the student at end of year ensemble concerts, especially in elementary school, where recognizing student accomplishment is widely encouraged. Those that choose not to do the recital usually regress slightly or do not improve (I say this meaning that most summers are times for a break in a young student’s music life). Add to that the intense individual attention they get from a private teacher who has a vested interest in the student playing “their” solo and want to help the student grow in their musical and technical facility. This connects to point number two.
In many auditions and festivals the private teacher and student do not have much control over the material being prepared. Some festivals have pre-existing lists or grade level requirements that limit the solo material. For chair tests, many ensemble directors understandably give out a required solo piece to help with the grading. In the studio recital, the music can be as challenging as the teacher and student want it to be. Teachers, whether private or not, can tailor a solo to a student’s specific needs. And of course, the availability of material is only limited by music catalogues. One suggestion I have is ordering the solo a few months out as a piece the student cannot play right away, have them practice small sections of the solo and especially places that need skill level improvements (range, technical). Then put them together closer to the recital with more work on the expression and “things not written on the page.” A second suggestion in order to save piano rehearsal time is to play the melody or important impact points on piano in the lesson along with your student. This way the teacher can really help the student learn how to count, help them listen for certain cues in the piano part and begin to help the student learn how to musically do rubatos, ritardandos, accelerandos and other musical expressions. The actual expression from the heart may have to be coached by rote at first, but if the student persists with copying a teachers suggestions, then the student will not only be able to feel the expression, but with repeated practice over a few years start creating their own expression without help. Is that not the ultimate goal?
My third point is very, very important in the young student’s life—the family. The student’s family is where they need the approval first. Parents need a direct outlet to witness and hear their student in a live performance and hear their peers also. In my work as a youth director, I have heard and read how the family is the largest influence on a youth interests, desires and needs: whether we think so or not. Youth depend on and trust their parent’s guidance first (even if the youth do not act like it). Win a family over through the studio recital and the rewards for that student’s involvement in the music program carry through the summer and beyond. Families can use the video or audio recording as a keepsake for their family relatives to see, hear and enjoy. Siblings use the attention as a mentoring process for each other. Having the rest of the family approve and appreciate what a student does is a key to that student’s happiness in their activities. Playing music is a common thread at family reunions and everyone from any country can relate to the same thing when talking about playing music. I have had many families take the student’s studio recital piece and have them play it again for other family members, religious services and gatherings where the student’s skills and talents can be proudly shown. Having direct family involvement also helps with their heartfelt appreciation of the ensemble director’s music program in the schools or community and their support emotionally or monetarily and willingness to help out with those programs.
All in all, the studio recital can be an excellent experience. Albeit, a lot of work on the studio teacher, but in the end well worth the improvement and self-confidence that is instilled in the students. Besides, where else can I say in public right as the recital starts—“don’t forget to breathe!”
David Porter serves as Principal Tuba with The McLean Orchestra and performs as a member of the Camerata Brass Quintet. He is also faculty on The Masterworks Festival and Director of Youth and Youth Music at Fairlington United Methodist Church.