by Dr. Beth Bauer
‘Tis the season for recitals. To prepare our studios for the recital, it is common to pick the date and venue, decide on the type of recital (duet, theme, holiday), plan the reception, and pick repertoire for our students. Many of these same things occur when preparing for a recital with our students with special needs; however, there are also other things that need to occur for our students with disabilities to have a positive recital experience. Some of these things require extra planning on my part.
One question I am often asked is whether or not my recitals are inclusive or do I separate my students with special needs from my students who are typical. My recitals are inclusive with all students participating together. I spend time teaching my students who are typical about what they could see at the recital. I also write social stories so that my students with disabilities know what will happen at the recital and what is good recital behavior. Beginning in January before the May recital, I start discussing a recital checklist that each student has in their assignment notebook (see below). This checklist and the social story about the recital help to ease possible student anxiety about what is unknown or unfamiliar in a recital. Many students will often bring this checklist to the actual recital and follow it. For a first year piano student, the parents and I discuss student participation in the recital. If the parent or I do not feel the child understands what the recital is - or is not ready to participate - I suggest that the student come to the recital and watch it. By the next year, the student who watched a recital will now perform in it.
Another area for preparation is to allow my students to see the actual recital space prior to the day of the recital, which helps to ease anxiety. One of my students scripts about geometrical shapes whenever he is nervous. Prior to the day of the recital, we scheduled several study sessions where he visited the recital venue. On the first visit, he scripted the organ pipes at the front of the recital hall into geometric shapes and walked around the space. We scheduled a second study session because he was very anxious at the first session. At the second session, he walked into the space and again scripted the shapes but was willing to walk to the piano and play his piece. On the day of the recital, he walked straight to the piano, took a bow, played his piece, took another bow, and walked back to his seat. There was NO mention of shapes on the recital day because he had time to get comfortable with the recital venue.
When working with students with disabilities, it is important to be consistent. This is also applicable to recital day and recital preparation. I try to keep as many things in the studio space similar to the recital venue. For example, to prepare for recital day I have an X marked with duct tape on the floor where students are to bow before and after playing their piece. In the recital venue, I use the exact same type of duct tape and place the X in the same place. This is not only to create a similar consistent environment, but to also ease anxiety. I also regularly show the student his or her place on the recital program. The students learn their order on the recital program two weeks prior to the recital. Several students ask to have the exact same place number each year and I accommodate those requests.
Another area where I often receive questions is about memorization. At my studio recitals, you will see students who play by memory and some who use scores. I base the memorization answer on each individual student. There are several students I work with who cannot memorize; we have tried and tried but it does not happen. In those cases, students are allowed to use their music.
My studio recitals do not last longer than one hour. This necessitates me dividing the studio into two groups. I ask parents for their recital time preference and try to accommodate all requests. The rationale for keeping the recital to around an hour is the attention span of many of the students. If a parent is concerned about his or her student not being able to handle an hour-long recital, the parent brings quiet activities to keep the student engaged during the recital. There have not been problems with behavior or attention spans because the students are looking forward to receiving the awards they have earned.
Recitals can be stressful for students. It is also very rewarding to see the smile a student has after a successful performance. At last year’s recital, there were several firsts for me as a teacher. For one student, he followed his recital checklist. He walked to the piano, took a bow, sat down on the bench, and turned to the audience to announce to them, “I hope you are ready because this is going to be good.” He performed his piece very well. His parents and I were shocked because we didn’t know what to expect from his pre-performance announcement. Another little boy followed his checklist and performed his piece. When it was time to go back to his seat, he announced “Mom, I did it.” The audience was in tears. For the student I previously mentioned who would rearrange the performance space into geometric shapes, he performed a very advanced movement of a Beethoven Sonata. He did a great job! What made this recital different than the last ten years was that he had the courage to verbally invite his classmates and teachers from school. Sometimes the value of the recital is not the musical performance itself but the nonmusical accomplishments.
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