If you’re a music performance major, one thing you’ll be familiar with is putting together a recital in April or some time near the end of the school year. Hours and hours of preparation go into this recital in terms of individual practice and rehearsing with pianists. It is also a humbling feeling to see your friends, fellow students, family, and teachers who have taken time out of their lives to come support you and your hard work. It is definitely a more rewarding way to end the school year then doing a jury for a small panel.
The sad part about these student recitals is it can often feel like pulling teeth to get people to come to your recital. I’ve been to many student recitals that were very well done and very poorly attended. With the amount of work that everyone puts into these recitals, regardless of how “good” they are, they deserve an audience of at least 50-60, which is virtually impossible for a school recital. At least at my school, you’re lucky to get an audience of 20.
If the music is so high quality and the students work so hard, why are the audiences so small? Well, several factors. First of all is the competition factor. In April there are dozens of other people also putting on recitals. In many cases, there are days with 2 or 3, possibly more recitals. There could be multiple recitals occurring at the same time at different venues too. It’s hard to sell your recital as the one to go to when there are dozens of others around the same time that people could attend. Having your recital too late in April or May will run the risk of people being “recitaled out” or they’ve gone home for the summer and they just won’t bother. Having your recital in March or early April may guarantee a larger audience, but are these people there to genuinely support you? At my school at least, you have to attend so many student recitals and professional concerts each year as part of your grade. The cut off date is in mid-April. Student recitals before that cut off date count as a credit and you’ll often see random people in the audience for those recitals. For me at least, I much prefer a smaller audience of people who genuinely support me rather than a large audience of random people who are just trying to squeeze in some last minute credits. No matter how much advertising you do, it is so easy for your recital to be lost in the mix of dozens of other similar recitals.
Another factor that, unfortunately, comes into play is popularity. You’d think that by university we’d mature a bit from high school cliques and popularity contests. Sadly, that is not the case in most music faculties. Some people are “popular” because they are “really good” and won blah blah competition or whatever. Some people are just known by everyone in the faculty for whatever reason. As soon as this person is having a recital, everyone is just there no matter what. It’s unfortunate that the people in the faculty who are “really good” pretty much get a guaranteed audience for their recital whereas the people who “aren’t as good” but work just as hard don’t get the same respect.
How many people you know from off-campus or outside the music faculty also has an impact. These people may not know as many people in the music faculty and would probably only hear about a few recitals. Since they are not bombarded with dozens of recital posters, they may be more likely to attend yours. I have always found that people that live at home have a decent sized audience at their recitals. They basically have a guaranteed audience of their parents, siblings, friends from high school, extended family, and other people they may know outside of the university community. Those people plus other students can add up to a decent sized audience.
Could the fault be in promotion? Most people will only advertise their recital with posters on campus and Facebook. While this is a great way to get the word out to thousands of people with the click of a button, it is a very passive form of advertising. While thousands of people will know about your recital, they may not be compelled to attend, especially if they’ve already received dozens of invites to other similar events. The best way to get people to attend is to personally invite them. Some people need a personal invitation to get the motivation to go to an event like a recital, especially if they’re not from the music faculty, they may feel like they aren’t allowed to come or may feel awkward being there. Facebook events can easily be forgotten or ignored. Perhaps if some students reached out to local newspapers, online event listings outside Facebook, or put up posters in off-campus coffee shops they would have more success in attendance to their recital. Of course, if every single student did this for their recital, then the same problem of competition would be present again. But again, even with putting up posters around the off-campus community, people may not feel compelled to attend a student recital for someone they don’t know or have never heard of. Once again, people who live at home for university have the advantage. I know I’ve done recitals in my hometown which were far better attended then any student recital I’ve been to at my school because I have the advantage of having family, friends, and other people I know that will attend my recital for sure.
As a music student, how do you navigate recital season? There are so many recitals and nobody in their right mind is able to attend every single one. How do you pick and choose without creating drama and hard feelings? Ultimately, you just have to figure out who you most want to support. For me personally, I try my best to attend as many string recitals as possible. I also try to attend recitals for people that I talk to on a regular basis or played with in a chamber group. Of course, we all have busy lives and there are times where I’m unable to go to someone’s recital as I have a conflict or I’ve gone home for the summer. I can’t be constantly worried about creating hard feelings because I went to A’s recital but not B’s. I am sometimes tempted just to not go to anyone’s recital, but then I’d feel guilty for not supporting anyone and I can’t expect people to attend my recital if I’m not going to go to any myself.
My third year recital was poorly attended, even worse than other poorly attended recitals that I’ve been to. I tried not to stare into the audience, but there couldn’t have been more than 8 people there. I did what I could to get the word out, I put posters around the music building, the rest of campus, and made a Facebook event, but so did dozens of other people for their recitals. A lot of it was the timing. I’d chosen a late April recital and I know there were a lot of people who would have attended but they had gone home for the summer. It was also a busy night in terms of other concerts happening around the community. Many students were involved with those concerts and couldn’t attend my recital, which was very understandable. There were several people who had the decency to wish me good luck or message me and say that they couldn’t make it but wished they could be there. Then there were several people that weren’t there that really should have been and to this day I wonder why they weren’t there. I was thinking that at the very least all the violists would be there and none of them were there. Only 2 or 3 other string players were there. I know a lot of people said that they couldn’t come and that’s fine, but there are a lot of people who should have been there and didn’t say anything. I was initially a bit hurt that a lot of the string players didn’t come to my recital. I didn’t care about having a large audience or anything, but I went out of my way for the past 3 years to attend string recitals and it was quite sad that gesture wasn’t reciprocated to me. It didn’t help that there was another string recital that evening. I’d picked the day first, but perhaps people liked the other string player better and “picked and chose”. I didn’t attend the other recital as I wanted to relax and celebrate that night and she didn’t attend mine as she was preparing for hers. I’ll never know who attended that recital but it would be somewhat heartbreaking if all the string players were there and not at mine. An experience like this almost makes me reconsider being so generous about attending recitals.
Ultimately, you really can’t get mad at people for not attending your recital. It’s not a fair accusation. At my school, I find that one thing the student body lacks is a sense of camaraderie and a support system. I see that in the vocalists, woodwinds, and brass, but not as much in the strings, which is really sad. I’ve met students at other schools and they always have string parties or string quartet reading sessions. The string players at my school would never be interested in anything like that. My school has to create a concert credit incentive system to get people to attend concerts and there are many schools where this is not required and students will go out of their way to attend other student recitals regardless. Once the cut off day for credit has passed, the April recitals become increasingly poorly attended. It’s not fair that those who have recitals in March or early April get a guaranteed audience of procrastinators for their audience. It’s sad that people who play the same instrument may not always go out of their way to attend their fellow peer’s recital even if that means going back to school after they’re done finals. I can’t really be mad at anyone or blame myself for doing anything wrong, a lot of it is just the mentality of the student body at my school and that isn’t really something that I alone can change. If anything, I should be thankful for those 8 people who took time out of their day to come support me.