By Stephanie Edwards
My family tried a new tradition this past New Year’s: we stayed home, played some board games, and watched home videos. As a video of one of my piano recitals appeared on the screen, memories surfaced.
Recently, I pulled out more of my recital videos and began thinking about the progression of student performing. This first video is from my 3rd year of piano lessons, when I was 7 years old. As with most elementary students, I completely forgot to bow or adjust the bench with my obvious nerves and excitement. However, I was well-prepared, played with a steady beat, and even added in a little musicality:
Many beginning piano students perform in much the same way. The extra presentational aspects (bowing, facial expressions, posture) may not be completely polished, but the playing is steady and accurate. There is some musicality, but it may be limited a little by the student’s nerves. This kind of early performance reveals a solid foundation for my later piano studies.
The next video is from my 7th year of piano study. As an 11-year-old, I am much more comfortable with the instrument, and you will notice that a little bit of poise has developed with my years of recital experience. There is more expression throughout the piece, the songs are more substantial, and I even had arranged one of the songs myself. At this point in time, I had rheumatoid arthritis, and so I wasn’t physically capable of a demanding, virtuosic performance. Even so, there is progress overall; my playing, confidence at the piano, and performance etiquette had improved.
The final video is from one of my undergraduate recitals. There is a bit of a gap between this performance and the previous video (11 years to be exact). Subsequently, you will see a noticeable development in stage presence and a leap in ability (though there’s always room to grow!). You may hear a few little memory glitches and muddled notes, as memorization is a typical challenge for intermediate and advanced-level students playing longer, more complex repertoire. However, the musicality is more intentional and internalized; by this point, I ‘owned’ the interpretation.
In college, my teacher played a significant role in guiding me through technical challenges and helping me to develop the character of the piece, however, I had much more say in how I would play the piece and the sounds that I would evoke. In elementary and middle school, my piano teachers taught me exactly how to play each piece and how each section should sound. It took years for me to begin to feel more independent in this area – to convey a song’s style and character well , and make the music “come alive” on my own.
As ‘piano students’ become ‘pianists,’ their performance ability and etiquette changes. Goals of steadiness and accuracy evolve into concerns of interpretation and musicality. Though we teach musicality, tone, technique, and dynamics from the beginning of piano study, it takes time for students to truly internalize all these aspects and effectively convey them in performance. Performing is an art that takes time to develop, and with each stage of the journey come new accomplishments and challenges. It is a joy to celebrate accomplishments and overcome challenges with students at every level.