I am so pleased to introduce the author of this guest post, Andrea West. She is a piano teacher, graphic designer, and marketing director who recently held an outdoor piano recital on her front porch! Rather than canceling her recital due to Covid concerns, she thought outside the box to create a fun and memorable experience for her piano families. Please enjoy Andrea’s article on eight simple steps for hosting an outdoor piano recital.
Take Your Piano Recital Outdoors: A Simple 8-Step Guide
Many of us had to make the decision early in 2020 to either cancel our recitals, move them online for a virtual experience, or take a chance on creating an outdoor event. Rather than cancel, I opted in the spring to do a virtual YouTube recital. It went well, but it was a ton of work. And, my students, families and I all missed the human connection you get at a live event.
Step 1 – Plan Early
I decided that the next recital would be outdoors. Texas offers a lot of challenges with weather, and I knew I was missing some essential equipment, so I began planning in June for a September recital. The big considerations were:
- COVID Precautions
Holding it on my front porch would eliminate a lot of expense and logistics, making that an easy decision. But, September is HOT in Texas, so it definitely needed to be in the late afternoon when my performers wouldn’t have sun in their eyes and guests might have some shade options. Because of the heat, it needed to be under an hour.
Two keyboards allowed me to sanitize one while the other was in use, so saving time between performers. Plus, we could have a few duets played on two pianos, so socially distanced. I did need to purchase an amp with enough channels to connect 2 keyboards and my iPad (to play backing tracks). The experts at Sweetwater helped me find the best/cheapest one to fit my needs.
Step 2 – Promote Early
- Involve Students
- Build Anticipation
Engaging students in the planning and promotion is key to its success. After all, this is really their event. I was able to gauge their enthusiasm (which was immense) and get ahead of any concerns they might have. They brought up a lot of good questions, helping me to lay out a more detailed plan.
The biggest take-away was now they felt some ownership. They were excited and shared their enthusiasm with their families. They were building the anticipation for me.
Social media platforms offer an easy and inexpensive way to hype an event. I started a pre-event campaign using “Coming Soon” and “Save The Date” teasers images.
Step 3 – Prepare Students
- Practice – music
- Practice – technology
- Practice – introduction
To keep this first experience short, sweet and successful, I had students choose a piece they already knew well. I wanted something that wouldn’t actually take a lot of practice – my goal being a fun and no stress event.
It was important to practice with the keyboards plugged into the amp. This has a different sound and feel to it, and students needed to be comfortable with that. Since many of my students would be playing with backing tracks, it gave me an opportunity to practice the best way to store and play them. Storing them in a DropBox folder, and labeling them numerically, made it easy for me to quickly find and play the correct audio file.
Students also practiced their introductions. Their voices would need to be heard all the way to the street. I designated a spot for them to stand, and asked them to help me out by preparing a 30-second introduction, including their age, grade, hobbies, how long they’ve played piano and anything else they wanted to say. I explained that it would give me time to sanitize their keyboard if they could chat up the audience for me.
Step 4 – Prepare Parents
- More Emails
At 30 days out, it was time to officially email parents. Knowing that I would probably need to send several, the first one was short and sweet. It only gave them the date, and that it would be outdoors, indicating that they would need to bring lawn chairs or blankets so they could sit socially distanced from others. The goal was to get a head count and to generate excitement with parents.
The follow-up email gave more details with the date, location, arrival time, attire (super casual since it’s outdoors), masks (not an option for students, encouraged for everyone), and precautions (there would be a sanitation station for all students to use before playing, the keyboards would be sanitized between students, and that families should socially distance their chairs from other families.)
Step 5 – Details
- Programs and Compliment Cards
I debated between a printed program and a large chalkboard to show the order of students. For the first outdoor recital, I opted for the chalkboard for simplicity. For the subsequent Christmas recital, I used both printed programs and the chalkboard.
I love using compliment cards. To save on printing costs I simply placed a stack of index cards on the sanitation station and asked families to fill them out.
Knowing it would be really hot, I placed small bottles of water in a huge bucket of ice. That was it for refreshments and it was perfect. Feeling confident from my success, I did get more elaborate for the Christmas gig and had packaged Christmas Cakes, marshmallows and instant hot cocoa.
Décor is easy and fun. It’s amazing what you can find laying around the house to place around your keyboards. Do make sure there is nothing that can blow away or interfere with your performers.
Step 6 – Anticipate Problems
- Equipment Checks
Knowing it would be a disaster if any of my extension cords got unplugged, all cords were securely duct taped so no child could trip on them. I set up my equipment an hour before the gig, and tested everything, ensuring that the keyboards were loud enough to be heard to the street, but not blast out my neighbors. I tested the volume of the iPad for the backing tracks.
Texas weather is unpredictable at best. I did schedule a rain-date for the December recital, but figured I would be fine in September. The September gig was hot and windy. The Christmas gig was cold and windy. Fortunately, I kept a basket next to the keyboards with clothespins and two-sided tape. I actually needed both and was glad I had them handy.
There’s nothing you can do about noise, except pray your neighbor doesn’t decide to cut their grass that day. It’s an outdoor gig, so don’t stress about the things you can’t control.
Step 7 – Recruit Assistance
- Set Up/Tear Down
Definitely find someone to help you out on recital day. There is a lot to do, and many hands makes it easier to move keyboards, string garland, pass out programs and clean up. I kept myself positioned behind the keyboards during the recital, so that I could easily sanitize keys, and tape down blowing music, so I had family members take pictures and videos.
Step 8 – Promote Success
- Social Posts
Celebrate your success! Students and families are ecstatic, and everyone is posting their pictures on social media sites. This is a great time for you to post some of the pictures your crew took for you. If you have permission, post student pictures. But you can always post crowd pictures, complimentary quotes from parents and students, or even your set up. But definitely brag about your success – you deserve it!