Student Recitals and Other Adventures

The first student recital of the 2015-2016 academic year happened on Wednesday, October 28th. It’s no secret that performance is not particularly my favorite activity and not especially my strong suit (due to stage fright and a propensity for unnecessarily dramatic facial expressions…), so I’m thoroughly pleased to report that not only did I perform in said recital, but also that it was not entirely a regrettable experience. Sure, I still feel like performances should count as cardio exercise, but now the rush feels more like the thrill of sledding down a hill and less like the feeling you get when you’re home alone and you hear something in the next room. Reflecting on the three-hour roller coaster of beautiful music and aggressive butterflies, I realized it would be a great topic for a blog post — it would’ve been so helpful to have known more about student performances at Pomona coming in. So let me save you the trouble!

credit to the "Chopin and Liszt" comic by Hark! a Vagrant
Credit to the “Chopin and Liszt” comic by Hark! a Vagrant

Taking Lessons

At the beginning of every semester, you sign up (in Thatcher lobby, during the first week of classes) for private music lessons. You can be a total beginner or an absolute pro, and it’s included in tuition (!!!!!!) for all Pomona students and all students in a Pomona ensemble. There are regular applied music instructors for all the major Western orchestral and band instruments, as well as piano and voice, among other things. There are also larger ensembles, but that’s a topic for another post. It’s my very unbiased personal belief that everyone should take at least one semester of music lessons while here — it’s a very different experience learning one-on-one, and my piano lessons have been a significant source of personal growth and fulfillment for me in college. Sounds cheesy, but I do mean it. Take lessons! They’re FREE (well, included)! But back to the point.

To play in the student recital, you either have to be taking Level II lessons or have special permission from a faculty member. Wait, what are Level II lessons? Level II lessons require a qualifying examination that you take at the beginning or end of the semester. Usually this consists of a couple of scales and two prepared pieces on your instrument. It’s pretty informal, but you do have to play in front of all the full-time faculty. If you pass, you’re eligible for hour-long private lessons if you want them (and, again, you can play in the student recital). Anyone who has taken lessons at Level I for four semesters or more has to take the exam every semester until they pass. If you don’t pass, they don’t kick you out of lessons; you just stay at Level I. Deep breaths. Half-hour lessons are 0.25 credits; hour lessons are 0.5 credits. I’ve done both at various points in college and this makes it really easy to fit lessons into the workload you have in different semesters!

The first indicator of recital season
The first indicator of recital season

Music lessons are for a grade, but if you practice diligently, make progress, and actually go to your lesson (no, really), you will get an A. And this does count toward your GPA. It is important to go to your lesson. If you know you can’t wake up early, change times with someone or talk to your teacher and get a later lesson time. Really.

Also, in some of the larger instrument studios (like the piano studios and the voice studios), there are performance classes for the students to sing/play for each other as a dress rehearsal of sorts before the recital. These are really helpful.

Signing Up for the Recital

There are usually two or three recitals in a given semester (I think the spring semester is more likely to have three than the fall), with one or two in the middle of the term and one at the end. They are always on Wednesday or occasionally Tuesday night, starting somewhere from 7 to 8. If you want to play in the recital, you go to the music department office and get a form. On this form, you write what piece(s) you’re playing (or singing), what instrument, whether or not you need an accompanist (the college will match you with one if so!), etc. The form is always due three weeks before the recital.

Can I Turn My Form in La–

No, you cannot turn it in late. I did that once. The emotional guilt of causing trouble to the awesome department coordinators is not worth it. You can turn it in on time! You can do it!

Chamber Music

If you want to play in a small ensemble, do it. It’s not too difficult: Get a group together, pick some repertoire, and get a faculty member to be your coach. By that I mean literally ask a faculty member “Hey, are you willing to coach our chamber group?” The worst they will say is no, and usually they will say yes. The faculty like students and they like music. You rehearse on your own with your group, meet occasionally with your coach, and then follow the same form procedure as a solo performer.

You can also do chamber music for credit (MUS040) and have a weekly group lesson. (I haven’t done this, but I really wish I had!)

The department posts the program the week before the recital
The department posts the program the week before the recital

The Recital

The recitals happen in Lyman Hall, which is a recital hall in the music building. It’s a really live space and a nice venue, despite having such weird pink-lavender walls (I love you, Thatcher). The performances always last a long time — the student recitals can run about three hours — and a lot of people don’t stay the whole time. Maybe it’s because I’m a senior and I’m putting off grad school apps and trying to attend as many free things as possible, but I think it’s a wonderful experience to stay for the whole event. Students work really hard to prepare and play so many different kinds of music, and it’s a great way to spend an evening.

On this particular recital, I performed three solo piano pieces (Brahms op. 118, #1-3) and two chamber pieces for two violins and piano (Shostakovich and Martinu) with two fellow orchestra peeps. Some things went better than expected. Some things went worse. Many went differently. It was a very useful, and sometimes even fun, experience.

A Final Note

Something to keep in mind is that while your friends come and go from the recital, while you play and while the fifteen people after you play, the one constant in the program is the presence of the music faculty. All of the full-time faculty in the department make a great effort to come see you and your fellow musicians perform what you’ve been working on, and they are supportive, attentive, and positive audience members. To me, this is what makes the Pomona experience so special: the opportunity to share your work with others in the community and the endless generosity of the faculty with their time. The student recitals are heavily underrated, and they’re an aspect of Pomona life I’ve only come to appreciate more and more.