Recital season is looming on the horizon, and it’s time to make song selections! In the name of fairness, I make a point to give students the opportunity to submit requests for recital songs before we make a final decision. This does not always go the way I would hope – some students need more guidance than “Pick a song you love!” to make a good song choice. After spending the last six months working on correcting a vocal fault, I want my student to show all she/he has learned to best advantage. My student wants to sing a “cool” song she just heard on the latest Ed Sheeran album – but it is completely wrong for the performance setting.
Make a point to do some listening: Listening assignments should be a regular part of lessons, but I often ramp up the listening assignments going into recital season. If a student listens to teacher-approved songs in the run up to making his/her song selection, he or she has a better idea of what constitutes a good song. Talk about why you chose to assign the specific piece and communicate the impact the piece has on you personally as an audience member. Complex melodies, exciting rhythms, carefully executed phrasing, and contrasting dynamics make songs worth paying attention to. Take some time to do some comparisons between your listening assignments and the music your student usually enjoys.
Make sure you and your student’s goals complement each other: First and foremost, a teacher should communicate specific, easily-explained goals for a student’s recital performance. I’ve noticed that students often compartmentalize technique and performance separately – somehow all the hard work a student puts in adjusting tone-quality, breath support, and stage presence during lesson time isn’t a major priority when performing. Remind a student that this performance is about showing vocal progress and reinforcing the hard-won skills they’ve been developing. Additionally, invite the student to identify some personal goals for their performance – reviewing previous recital performances can give a student a lot of food-for-thought when determining what matters most in a song.
Give specific criteria: When beginning the song selection process, I ask students to come in with a list of at least three song ideas for recital. This gives the student a chance to express his/her opinion and be part of the process, which helps him/her invest emotionally in the piece. Adding some song guidelines will help narrow down the selection: the song must have appropriate, family friendly content; the sheet music must be available legally for accompaniment purposes; and the student should be able to sing the song using good vocal technique.
Encourage students to challenge themselves. If a student is putting effort into learning how to sing, it is counterintuitive to choose a recital song that doesn’t stretch them in some area or another. Try a new style of music, a more dramatic interpretation, or a different language. Recital is an opportunity to experiment with something new in front of an audience that is prepared to be friendly and supportive. Fostering an environment that encourages musical exploration leads to more interesting recital selections and audience enjoyment.
Alyssa Cowell Voice and Piano Instructor RCM Program Coordinator and Admin The Catoctin School of Music