Critting a Studio Concert

performers
All performers onstage please. (Except those who left early?)

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Our Studio Concerts are for the benefit of our students.

With the next Studio Concert imminent on the 24th of October, I’d like to address some post-concert crit I received on the way things were drawn up at the last concert, from various people who were present.

Usually the most comment we get for our concerts are that it went very well, usually from relieved parents and students.  However it is interesting and relevant to get guests and audience to voice their concerns, along with students and parents.  This usually only happens after a very well-attended and successful concert.  The smaller concerts don’t draw much comment.

Firstly let me reiterate that we are very proud of our students.  Everyone performed to the best of their abilities and current standard at the time.  I’m also especially impressed that so many of our students made it.  There are some concerts during which we sit with only a half-hour of program, because of all sorts of reasons. 

 

“It was too long.”

A studio concert can range in time from 30 minutes to 3 hours.  This depends on the performers, the quality and length of the pieces, but to the largest extent on how many attend.  It also depends on how long the interval is stretched, whether there are inconsistencies etc.   Though the stage direction went smoothly, this concert was exceptionally well attended, adding length. 

A classical symphony concert will usually take 2 – 3 hours, with interval.  Forget escaping an opera under 3 hours.  And a common school concert, with every class performing something, can draw on interminably.  

However a lot of us are not used to this culture.  I know that the short snippets that get performed during school assemblies most certainly can’t be called a “concert”. Also, most movies on the circuits are not longer than 90 minutes (take note, there is no interval).   The definition of a concert is an evening or afternoon dedicated to music.

But I have to admit, there was one factor that did lengthen our studio concert beyond its normal duration; this was the act of inviting a friend to let three of her students perform numbers too.  

 

“It wasn’t the singers (the guest artists) that lengthened the show; it was the violins.”

Pardon me, but this is the concert for the violins and guitars.  The Studio Concert, let me hammer this point home, is for the benefit of our students.  We organize it, book the hall, draw up the program etc.  The purpose of the concert is that each of our students, no matter how raw, gets the benefit of stage experience.  It is part of our teaching program.

Yes, it was the inclusion of three external numbers for the purpose of bringing in more variety, that lengthened the concert by another 15 minutes.  I still feel it was a good move.  Relatively, the concert was not overly long; it started around 20 past 6 and was finished around 9h, which time included an interval.

On a related note, seeing that the visiting studio of course put forward its three best singers (as opposed to all our violinists and guitarists, from raw beginners to advanced), it gives a skewed impression of the quality of our studio.  On my list is to organize a concert at some point in which only our best students perform, along with the best from other studios.  However that will not be our studio concert which will always include our beginners.

 

“Your beginners shouldn’t play so many pieces.”

Let me remind you:  The concert is for the benefit of our students.  Not of the audience which consists of parents and supporters.  

When a performer stands on stage facing an audience that is well-dressed and listening with all ears, the performer experiences a certain level of intimidation.  This is commonly known as “stage fright”.  The act of lifting one’s violin and playing anyway, takes courage; but beyond that it takes skill controlling the bow and fingers in the presence of all that adrenaline (it makes the bow shake and the hands sweat, which makes your left hand pretty slippery and uncontrollable).

Once you’ve been playing for a minute or two, the adrenaline subsides.  If you are a raw beginner, you’ve just begun to feel a bit more familiar with the audience when your song is over.  This is why it is important that each (even the raw beginner) plays two songs at least.

 

“Why did that one little girl who played so well only get to play one song, and the other one who didn’t do well at all, play three?”

An intelligent question with an unexpected answer.  The little girl that played so well, had prepared three pieces but had forgotten her sheet music at another place.  So she literally only played the song for which she could source the music from a friend.  It was her first time onstage and it served to bring home the lesson that you need to remember your music and preferably, know your pieces by heart.

The other little girl was also onstage for the first time.  She plays better in a private setting and was terribly frightened of the audience; however, she courageously pushed through and performed each of her pieces.  This made me very proud.  She also learnt something:  You need to practice a lot more than you think you need to, because technique vanishes in the presence of fear.

 

 “The pieces the advanced duo performed, were very long, and also the pieces your son played.”

Classical music works like this:  You start at “I’m a little Teapot” and progress to Bach’s Double Concerto.  Performing longer pieces is also part of our teaching program.  It prepares the students for exams and recitals, for gigs, performances and a career in music.  For those who don’t intend to study music:  As someone pointed out years in the past, our studio stage might be the only opportunity they get in their lives to perform properly before a real audience.  These are memories that are kept forever.

Besides, consider this:  If my advanced students played longer, it’s because they deserved it (with many years of diligent practice).  Also, proportionally the quality of the music is so much better on the higher level that it fully justifies giving it a “disproportional” amount of air space.

The advanced students are the audience’s reward for listening to the raw beginners.  Don’t shorten the enjoyable parts.

 

“The advanced students shouldn’t play so many pieces.”

Yes they should.  See the point above.  They have deserved it.

 

“You should hold a separate concert for beginners and advanced.”

No I shouldn’t. How many beginners, do you believe, would come to the concert of the advanced?  Yet it is important that the beginners can see where they are heading.  They need to hear the advanced students and all the phases inbetween, so that they can mentally map their path and set goals.  It serves to inspire them to practice.

Also, if the beginners were to hold their own concert and half the parents had something on that day, how sad would that concert be?  It would certainly not be worth renting that beautiful concert hall.  The beginners are benefiting from the advanced students playing in the same concert.

There are however, on occasion, house concerts to which the best of our students are invited to perform.  Come to these and see how many of the beginners you spot in the audience.

 

“Your students should play with backing tracks.”

If that is the case, you find yourself in the wrong studio.  Yes, the guest artists performed with backing tracks, and so did one of the guitarists.  This is to remind people that there is such an option (and of course the guest artists were singers, so they needed accompaniment – in the absence of a good pianist, a backing track is a good option).

But the spirit of classical music that we teach is not a funky backing track but live accompaniment, and sometimes unaccompanied performance.  It is the spirit of musicians performing together, not of tinned music.  If you want tinned music, why come to a concert at all?

 

“We had to sit for very long.”

I’m sorry if this caused some people backache.  The chairs at the Tauromenium aren’t of the worst quality; yet if you find you can’t sit long enough to go through a concert without pain, please feel free to stand up or walk around outside at intervals.  This is not an ultra-formal Gala event; just a studio concert.  Even at a Gala event nobody should be forced to sit to the point of pain.

However let me repeat, the concerts are not abnormally long.  There is only an abnormally high proportion of people whose backs are wrecked from too many hours in the car, from accidents and from overwork.  This is regrettable and we are working hard to fix that situation.  Shortening a concert that gives youngsters a chance to perform in a high-class setting, is not the answer to this.

 

So we’ll see you at the concert in October!

If the October concert can be as well-attended as the previous one was, this will be a major cause for celebration.  I would like to call on all our students, violin or guitar, to come and participate.  There is a party after the concert, always; it’s called a “reception” and has the most delicious treats and sweets.  

Moms with small toddlers:  It’s a tough call, I know.  If your tiny children (the ones that are younger than 4 or 5 and will not enjoy the music) can be left in the care of a kindly grandmother or babysitter, you will have so much more energy and get so much more enjoyment out of the achievement of your young performer, as well as her reactions to the more advanced numbers.

All these objections make it sound as though it wasn’t a good concert.  On the contrary, it was a great concert, and everyone enjoyed it tremendously. It will be interesting to see how much our young ones who were raw beginners last time, have progressed in 6 months.  (I’ll give you a clue:  You’ll be amazed.)

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