8 ways voice recitals teach writing.

I spent an hour at a voice recital. Ten high school students gathered in the large living room of their teacher and performed pieces for an audience of family members.

Recitals can be nerve-wracking. But they are (or can be) great teaching experiences as well.

1. Performance isn’t always competition, but it often leads to it. Most of the people in this recital are competing with these same pieces next week. This was a friendly, non-judging audience. It allowed the students to actually perform, to get feedback from their teacher, to have parents make comments on the ride home.

Sometimes try out the high-stakes writing on a friendly audience first. Have people who will read drafts.

2. To be a singer, you need an audience. More accurately, sometimes you need an audience, particularly if the kind of singer you are is a singer for. There are many people who sing that are not singers for, just like there are many writers who are not writers for. But if you are for, then you need the audience, you need to find out where the nerves are, where the projection is, what it feels like to have eyes looking at you.

The power of blogging for some of us is that it gives us an audience on the way to other audiences.

3.  A complicated accompaniment can make the singer sound better. One of the pieces was a vocally challenging piece, but it was even more challenging for the pianist. And she handled it with passion. As a result, there was tremendous applause. The singer was great, but the helper fed the audience.

Inviting great responses…and great responders…can make your writing sound even better.

4. Singing out of your area of comfort can stretch you well. One of the singers is not competing in the high school state competition. She knew that she had too many other things happening to add that stress. However, she also knew she could benefit from the lessons…and the recital that came with them. She sang a piece in Italian, one of the languages that she seldom sings. The teacher is far more classical than this student usually needs. However, as a result of this intentional experience, she is building her skills for what she really does.

Writing for group projects or blogs that are outside your usual field, helps.

5. Deadlines sharpen performance. A recital happens at a specific time and place. Your name is on the program. You have to show up.

6. Experience is cumulative. The more you perform, the more poise you have for performing. Even when you forget a transition, the more you have performed, the less traumatic the lapse. Part of the reason is that each time you perform, individual performances become a smaller percentage of your total experience. (Your first solo is 100% of your solo resume. Your second is 50%. Your third is 33%) By the time you have been in several choirs for several years, the idea of an audience has become familiar, and one slightly off performance can be offset by the 98% that have gone smoothly.

Write. Often.

7. Being a student means you are learning. For a recital like this, the expectation is that you are learning, you are not perfect. There will be mistakes, there will be room for improvement, there will be new understandings of how to approach the music.

Acknowledge that you are both skilled and learning. Overplaying the former looks arrogant, overplaying the latter looks silly, being in the middle (I have  learned, I am learning) is exciting.

8. The cookies help the music. There is always a reception after a recital. Cookies, coffee, conversation. The opportunity for the teacher to compliment the student and the parents, and the other way around. The opportunity for the students to encourage each other, to commiserate. Shared experience. It feels awkward sometimes, but it is part of the community of music.

Write together. Offer coffee to others. It’s part of the community of writing.

Does this make sense? What suggestions can you offer me? (Because writing here is usually a recital.)

5 responses to “8 ways voice recitals teach writing.

  1. Everything’s better with food. What started out as a slight dig (college students will show up for anything if there’s free food) has become quite real to me through the Eucharist. Eating together is a form of communion that creates an important and very basic bond.

    I love #7, “I have learned AND I am learning.” A teacher told me once, “We do not practice to perform, we perform to practice.”

  2. I’m a singer and a writer and therefore, see how very accurate your analogy is. I especially like the part about cookies. Conversation. I learn so much from you.

    I recently heard a seasoned, elderly violinist say, “We should practice like we’re performing and perform like we’re practicing.” More food for thought.

  3. hannah – wonderful insight. Eating together, breaking bread together, taking
    time together doesn’t just build relationship, it creates connection. And
    though I am too much mondayed to explore it now, the idea of Eucharist as
    free food, (with all apporpriate respect) has my mind racing.

  4. Cheryl – I so don’t like practice. When I took lessons for years, I never
    took practice seriously. And yet, now, I am seeing the value. It isn’t rote.
    It is growth. It is the under the water part of the iceberg that lifts the
    top for glory and glistening. r

  5. Jon,
    A great post! In particular, I like the way you phrase #7. I have learned and am learning. Very good. I appreciate your work.