How to succeed at a music festival

A student performing at North York Music Festival 2014

Students studying music have the opportunity to participate in many extra activities outside of their regular private lesson. I will be focusing on WHY piano students should participate, and HOW to succeed specifically at music festivals.

Since 2010, I have been actively volunteering for music festivals (first in British Columbia, now in Ontario). As a young piano student, I participated in recitals, but did not have the opportunity to play in festivals or competitions. I had heard about such things from friends who also took piano lessons, but it was not until I became a teacher, that I became more aware of these. Since I didn’t have any first-hand experience, I thought they were unnecessary activities, and never gave consideration to encouraging my students to participate. However, once I became involved in these, I discovered many important reasons to participate, as well as how to do well in them.

What is a music festival?
Music: “vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) combined in such a way as to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion.”
Festival : “a day or period of celebration.

A music festival is a celebration of beautiful, expressive sounds. A music festival is different from a competition in that although some classes are competitive, the main purpose is to gather music students of various ages and abilities to play and receive feedback from the adjudicators.
A music competition will be more focused toward “winning”, and there will often be a large monetary award for the winner.

WHY participate in music festivals?

1. Encourages students to practice more.
Runners often join marathons or races to motivate themselves or to compare themselves with other runners. Often they will participate in the same race annually to see how much they have improved. Similarly, there’s nothing like an impending festival to encourage students to practice daily and for longer.

2. Motivates them to polish their pieces.
Music is more than just the notes on the page. Once they have learned the written notes, the next step is to play with the articulation and expressiveness marked on the music. Finally, they memorize and internalize the music in a way that allows them to add their personal touch.

3. Connects students with others.
It can be lonely to practice and play on your own, so attending festivals connects students with other students. The students are grouped in sections where they play music from the same time period or genre. Many times, the same piece performed by another student. Participating in festivals gives a feeling of being a part of something bigger.

4. Receive feedback from top musicians in their field.
It is beneficial for the student to hear from someone with a wealth of experience different from their teacher. Sometimes they can offer a new perspective or ideas. Or they may suggest something their teacher has already been saying, but it seems to stick when it comes from someone else!

HOW to succeed in music festivals.
1. Play on as many pianos as you can. You will not get a chance to “try out” the piano before the performance. As soon as you begin playing, you must be able to adjust to how easily the keys and pedals move.

2. Play in as many environments as possible. You never know what the acoustics of the room will be. I was in a room that was quite large and echoey. Suddenly, forte dynamics sounded fortissimo , and the entire feel of the pieces changed.

3. Completely secure the beginning and end of the piece. Memory slips are common in this environment. Most students come 110% prepared to play but those who cannot manage their anxieties tend to play worse. Absolute memory can help immensely to calm nerves.

4. Prepare your materials and yourself. Tag/tab your starting page. There is no need to present a completely virgin score (sometimes the judge will even write in the score). Come dressed professionally. This helps with your overall presentation and can affect the way you are perceived. The student’s musical artistry is somewhat subjective depending on the judge, and you want to leave the best impression possible. Sloppy dress indicates an attitude of carelessness.

5. This is common sense, but remember to go to the bathroom before! There is no leaving during the session, and they can last 30-60 min.

1. Open the score to the appropriate page and have it ready to present to the adjudicator.

2. Be ready to be seated in a row with the other students.

3. Bow before and after your performance. Don’t forget to smile!

4. Listen attentively to the other students performing. See if you can notice what they did well or could have done better. This is excellent training to learn how to evaluate others and yourself.

1. When everyone has performed, the adjudicator will often make some general remarks to all the students, then address each student. The adjudicator may make verbal remarks or ask the student to try out some things at the piano.

2. Thank your adjudicator. They are often there for the entire day listening to students, and appreciate it when students respect their advice.



Published by hannahannika

Piano Teacher

2 thoughts on “How to succeed at a music festival

  1. They are very useful to overcome your nerves to play to unknown audiences too, especially with the tingle of nerves that run through you. It also helps to listen to other pieces you may not have heard before to add to your repertoire 🙂
    Best wishes

    1. Thanks for the comment! You have a wonderful voice! You sound like you have participated in many festivals.

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