Every week I am inspired by piano teachers and what they have happening in their studios. There are so many teachers with great ideas and I’m so glad that we are able to connect with each other online. When I saw Tasha Palmer post pictures from her latest recital, I immediately reached out to her and she was kind enough to share all of her recital details with us–and even some free printables!
I know you’ll enjoy reading what she’s come up with!
I’m going to let Tasha take it away and have her tell you a little bit about herself before we dive into all things Movie Recital.
I’ll be the first to admit that I hate practicing the piano. But… I LOVE to play it! Guess what – you can’t play it unless you practice. Lots. And. Lots. I have been teaching piano off and on for the last 10 years. My career started when a dear friend had to twist my arm to start teaching her kids, and it has since blossomed into a passion.
I have five little ones – yes FIVE – at home (ages 3-11). Teaching and mothering is a balancing act, but we have found equilibrium through some trial and error. I love having my own children as students and getting to share the gift of music by teaching their friends as well. I feel I have been “practicing” my whole life to become a piano teacher. And now I get to play.
It all started last year when I was inspired by my 8-year-old student to do a Movie-themed Spring recital. He likes to play by ear, and struggles to read notes. I overheard him playing the beginnings of the “Jurassic Park” theme song and had a light-bulb moment. Rather than struggling to teach him notes to a new song, I would let him write the song himself. We would reverse the role of the sheet music. Instead of using the notes to learn the keys, we would use the keys to learn the notes.
And with that, our movie theme was born.
The idea took off from there as I began to think about songs from different movies that had similar themes or words or would even promote clever titles. Moana had just come out. “How Far I’ll Go” was put on replay at our house as my girls danced and sang all day, just as “Let it Go” had been a couple years earlier. Funny that they both have the word ‘Go’ in them, I thought.
And an instant movie mashup was formed in my mind – “How Far I’ll Let it Go”.
It was followed quickly by some of my other favorites – “Inside Up”, “Sleeping Beauty and the Beast”, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow Connection”, “Part of Your Whole New World”, and “Supercalifragilisticexpiali-Do-Re-Mi” (a Julie Andrews Medley).
My students are all young and I tried to think of songs that would excite them individually. I knew one struggling 7 year old loved “Star Wars”. So I arranged a medley of three of the classic songs from the series.
Another boy I have is into martial arts and fighting, so I gave him the “Rocky” theme song paired with the theme song from “2001 Space Odyssey”. We had a great time actually Boxing with that rhythm to get it to sink into his bones. I have a little girl who loves to brag that she is related to Pocahontas, so Voila!, a Pocahontas medley was formed. One boy comes to lessons with a super happy smile on every time and loves to play with legos, so naturally, I gave him a song from “The Lego Movie” paired with “Happy” from “Despicable Me 2”.
Two of my students I struggled finding an obvious match for, so I simply asked. Their mom said, “He is totally into the Justin Timberlake song from ‘Trolls’ and also loves Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” So, “Can’t Stop That Mutant Turtle Feeling” was the ticket. His sister wanted to play the song from “Tangled” and also likes the one from “Lion King” so “Can you See the Light Tonight” was born. And my original student who started the whole thing? Well, he wanted another dinosaur movie song to mash into his “Jurassic Park”. So we used “Homestead” from the “Good Dinosaur” and he chose to title it, “The Good Jurassic Dinosaur”.
Many of these songs, I already had arrangements for and simply altered, rearranged, simplified, transposed, or tweaked depending on what was needed. Others I worked on from scratch. I loved figuring out how to mash them together or surprise the audience with both subtle and blatant changes.
I spent a couple weeks after Christmas feeling enlightened and writing the arrangements. Then in February, the real magic happened. I introduced my students to their songs, but told them that they were going to get to help write it themselves. As I sat down with each one, I gave them a sheet of staff paper. We practiced drawing the grand staff and then each plucked out (by trial and error) a small phrase of their well-known melodies and wrote it onto their staff paper.
To make things even more interesting, I opened up Noteflight on the computer and let them input their notes. They loved how professional it looked after I printed it up, and equally loved the playback button. They suddenly felt the pride of ownership for their song and it got them very excited. I also let them write in their own dynamics and fingerings. They felt very “in control” and wanted even more to work hard to master their creation.
And that original instigator? The one who inspired it all and struggles to read the staff notes? He did amazing! In fact, we got to have a whole lesson on transposing because he had learned the portion of his song in the key of A flat, and I knew he wasn’t prepared to handle a whole medley in that key. So it became the key of C with some transposing magic, which he loved.
As the kids progressed with learning their medleys, I felt the recital wouldn’t be complete without an opening number that included a smorgasbord of Movie Studio Theme songs.
I wrote up a very simplified version of 5 studio songs and assigned each child a small part to play: We had one student whistle and hold a Mickey Mouse doll, while two other students played the RH and LH parts, respectively, of the Disney whistling Mickey theme; We had the Warner Brothers descending cadences split between three students; The Columbia Pictures was divided into four parts; Universal Studios had two students playing RH and LH respectively, while a third pounded the piano on the big drum beats (that got an audience laugh); and finally, I played the 20th Century Fox theme while the kids all patted their thighs ferociously and stood in front of the audience. We had never practiced all together when the recital day arrived, but it was an exciting (though understandably imperfect) beginning to the show!
Now, onto the show…
Some cute and cheap cardboard decorations from the Oriental Trading Company did the trick for ambience. I reserved my local church gymnasium, asked my piano moms if anyone had a theater-style popcorn machine and got lucky, put the students in charge of their own costuming, bought some tubs of licorice, and realized I needed one more thing.
What does every great movie deserve…? An Academy Award!
Having recently heard about audience Compliment Cards, I decided to repurpose the idea. I invited each student and family to be a part of The Academy. They were given a stack of “Recital Award” cards and asked to write a title for an Oscar they would give each performer. The awards were a hit with both giver and receiver. It kept the students occupied, less nervous, and better behaved, and the families loved praising their children.
In addition to the compliments, I gave out my own Awards. From Amazon, I purchased a cheap set of Academy Award style trophies and wrote an individualized title on each one with a gold sharpie. Titles included: M.V.P., Rock Star, Espressivo, The Imitator, Super Student, Flying Fingers, Rising Star, Best Attitude, Most Determined, Rhythm Master, Tumbler (given to my student who loves to tumble and had worked hard on difficult finger passages, which we called her tumbling passes), Practice Pro, and Rookie of the Year. I also handed out some boxes of movie candy to two students who earned the most points and memorized the most songs during the year.
The students did amazingly well. Almost all of them had their songs memorized, yet I noticed that so many were bringing their music up to the piano with them. What was going on? Had everyone suddenly forgotten their songs? It wasn’t until later, I realized that a group text I had sent the moms that morning had been misinterpreted. It gave some final instructions and then I said, “Bring their music, just in case”. This was intended to mean, “Just in case they freeze while playing it memorized, we can pull out their music to help them along”. Classic miscommunication. Oops. Luckily, the performances were entertaining enough that the audience didn’t mind or notice a piece of sheet music.
After the final student number, I thanked everyone for coming and for supporting their kids in this journey. Then I looked at the children and told them how proud I am of them, how much I love them, and that “You’ve Got a Friend Like Me”. I then sat down and played my own mashup from “Toy Story” and “Aladdin” and ended with a dramatic glissando. The simple awards ceremony concluded the recital and everyone mingled while eating their freshly popped popcorn and soft red vines.
And That’s a Wrap!
Want to connect with Tasha? You can find her in Piano Teacher Central.