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Senior music recitals cap off music education and performance degrees

By Russell Axon
On April 26, 2012

While most seniors spend their final academic year raising grades, applying for graduation and job-hunting, music majors prepare to perform.

A senior music recital is a concert performance meant to showcase a senior’s growth in musical skill and knowledge over four years. It is a degree requirement of all music education and music performance majors.

“[The recital] serves as the capstone of the undergraduate performing experience,” said Robert Ballinger, associate lecturer for the music department. “The goal itself is to present a picture of a young artist.”

In a phone interview, Thaddeus Archer, a part-time trumpet instructor for the music department, said senior recitals offer music students an experience outside most people’s comfort zones.

“It’s not something that comes up very often unless you purposely do it,” he said.

Music students are expected to spend enormous amounts of time preparing for their recitals.

“Students should be preparing from the first day of school,” Archer said.

Chelsi Vasquez, a senior music education major, said she began seriously preparing in August of last year.

“Preparing for this recital was one of the most emotional and stressful things I’ve done,” she said. Vasquez completed her French horn recital at the beginning of this month.

Laura Conley, a senior majoring in music education, recently completed her recital on the clarinet. She estimated she spent at least 100 hours preparing for the performance.

“All the time that you have free goes straight to that,” she said.

Although only music performance majors are required to hold junior recitals, both Conley and Vasquez elected to also perform recitals their junior years to better prepare for their senior recitals.

A music student must select a handful of pieces totaling approximately 50 minutes, according to Ballinger.

Many music students also work with accompaniment for select songs, which requires group practices.

As a skilled pianist, Ballinger commonly accompanies seniors for their recitals.

“They spend many hours with their accompaniment,” he said. “The effort is really a collaborative one.”

At the start the semester, senior music students must register for the “senior recital” course. Each individual music student works with a personal instructor.

“You generally work with the same teacher from the time you come into the program,” Conley said. “So they know how you play, and they know what you’re capable of, and they know where to tell you to go so you can improve.”

Conley said her instructor, Lesli McCage, was extremely helpful in selecting her performance pieces and refining her technique.

Vasquez said her instructor, Alan Taplin, supported her 100 percent.

“He was very encouraging,” she said. “He didn’t just let me give up.”

A month before planning to hold a senior recital, a music student must pass a hearing — a run-through of his or her planned performance in front of a group of faculty members, which Conley said is a “critical point.”

The hearing is used to gauge a student’s preparedness, according to Ballinger.

“If a student is not prepared, it shows,” he said.

Archer said the hearing consists of the student’s private instructor and one or two instructors from the same “family of instruments,” and it allows a senior to work on any weak areas of their recital.

“If the hearing has any inconsistencies, then the student has an opportunity to work them out,” he said.

Vasquez said she failed her initial hearing due to nerves and distractions.

“It was hot in the room and I was nervous,” she said. “So, yeah, I bombed it.”

Vasquez said she came back a week later and breezed through her second hearing.

The final recital is similar to a professional concert, complete with fancy attire and an intermission.

Archer said he is always impressed at the level of discipline and endurance the students show.

“It’s easy to watch TV for three hours because your brain is in neutral,” he said. “But playing an instrument, your brain’s in overdrive.”

Conley said she felt some of that professional pressure when one of her accompanists had to go to the hospital several hours before her recital. Luckily, McCage was able to secure a replacement for the piece.

“I found out after the recital that [the replacement] was the same lady who performed on the original recording I used to practice the piece,” Conley said. “Needless to say, she was really good.”

Upon completion of a recital, Ballinger said music students are typically relieved and elated.

“There’s a huge sense of relief,” he said. “It is a huge accomplishment.”

Conley said completing her recital in front of her friends and family was a huge emotional moment.

“You’re like, ‘Thank God I’m done,’ but at the same time, it’s the most rewarding feeling in the world,” she said.

Since the recital counts as a course, the music students receive a grade for the class. Archer, however, said a student’s entire experience is taken into account for the grade.

“It’s kind of a rite of passage,” he said.

Vasquez said her recital was one her best UT experiences.

“To see my progression from when I started out as a freshman to my being on that stage as a senior, I think that was the most gratifying part [of my experience],” she said.

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