Each year, Elizabethtown College students demonstrate their knowledge and skills through various formal assessments. Typically, these include portfolios, presentations and papers. However, there is one type of project which rarely receives the attention it deserves.
Prior to having a sister in the music department, I was completely unaware of the recital requirement for music majors. It seemed like a foreign concept to me. Performance is not my forte, and so imagining it as a prerequisite for graduation was initially very strange to think about. But the more I learned about it, the more fascinated I became.
Students in the music program typically begin preparing for their recitals many months in advance, often up to a full year. They are required to prepare 30 to 40 minutes of music chosen from the repertoires they have built through their college careers. Many recitals also involve collaboration with accompanists, fellow students or musician friends. In addition to practicing individually, seniors have to coordinate rehearsal times with every member of their group.
Through talking with some of the students, I learned that the process of preparing for a senior recital is unique and quite remarkable. “Constant drilling and re-drilling my fingers for muscle memory and mind memory was essential in preparing,” senior pianist Samantha Keynton said. “I would set aside hours of time just to practice my music.”
Senior Marissa Harper, a music therapy and flute major, compared it to a sport. She emphasized the importance of endurance achieved in small increments of practice time every day. She and trumpet player senior Graham Reeve also expressed that they “didn’t know what practicing meant” prior to going through this process. I learned through our conversation that there is no way to execute a recital halfheartedly; it’s either all or nothing for these students.
In addition to the pressure of memorizing all their pieces, music students must also perform for their professors to be approved for their performance. Senior Ashley Blaha, a music therapy major, explained, “The opportunity to execute a senior recital is exciting but also very nerve-wracking. We prepare for a jury three weeks prior to the recital and have a panel of three professors to judge if we pass or fail.” Understandably, this generates a large amount of stress for many of the seniors, but the end result is usually well worth the struggle.
Through hearing all these stories and comments, I couldn’t help but consider how non-music majors might be missing out on such a worthwhile experience. While many of us do have similar requirements for graduating from our respective programs, the senior recital phenomenon seems unmatched in its benefits for the students who perform. “The best part of the senior recital is knowing it is finally a performance that isn’t for a grade,” Blaha said. This comment was among the ones which stood out to me most, as grades are typically of chief concern for a majority of students. Admittedly, I am guilty of this mindset, but it is refreshing to know that not everyone thinks this way. The opportunity to put together a recital allows for a type of satisfaction and personal fulfillment that a point system cannot provide.
“It is great to see how I’ve grown musically over the year, and I am just proud of myself for how far I’ve come,” senior music therapy major Arianna Bendlin said. “Although I do not want to perform as my career, the confidence I have gained in performing definitely helps the future music therapist in me.” Many of the other students also commented on the progress they made through putting together the recitals as well as in the music program in general. Harper explained that the support of friends, family and instructors is essential in gaining the self-assurance to perform in front of an audience. After each recital, those who attend will line up to congratulate the student on his or her accomplishments. As I witnessed at voice major and senior Liz Boyer’s recital, it is a perfect venue for celebration after a long year of disciplining oneself and perfecting one’s talents.
Finishing a recital is certainly a relief for graduating seniors, but there are plenty of other emotions involved. Reeve described the feeling as “surreal,” knowing that it would stick with him forever. He felt that the validation from his peers and professors was what ultimately made him realize he had what it takes to be a musician.
Perhaps some of us aren’t cut out to perform in front of crowds, and that’s perfectly OK. But if there’s one thing we can all learn from senior music majors, it’s that working hard at the things we truly love is one of the most rewarding experiences we can have.