“It’s Probably That Darned Funeral” … And Other Piano Recital Disasters

If you’re like me, you’re probably in the throes of recital planning. And, if you’re like me, your stress level is through the roof. No matter how organized I am I just can’t shake the feeling that something might go wrong.

It’s Probably That Darned Funeral

That’s right… I blame my recital jitters on a funeral. Several years ago, on the eve of our recital (4 recitals actually) the church secretary phoned to inform me that we were double-booked with… a funeral!

How can you argue with that? You can’t! So… once the dizzy spells and nausea passed, I scrambled and found another venue at the last minute. I then spent the next six hours phoning and emailing every last student (230 who were attending that day) to inform them of the venue change.

And wouldn’t you know it, I managed to contact every single student and the day went off without a hitch.

Share Your Recital Disaster and Win!

We want to commiserate with you… so spill the beans in the comments below. Tell us all about your recital disaster and be entered to win a free copy of any one of our resources in the Teach Piano Today Store (excluding WunderKeys).

We’ll pick 2 winners. The first will be drawn at random, while the second winner will be selected based on Recital Disaster Severity :) Comments must be received by midnight tonight (November 29, 2012 PST)

48 Responses to “It’s Probably That Darned Funeral” … And Other Piano Recital Disasters

  1. Leia says

    Hehe I like Andrew’s comment, I was thinking the same thing! Although I’m sure it was just a typo :)

    Recital disasters… er, a really embarrassing one is that I planned a recital and only 3 students said they could perform that day! I had to cancel of course. Cringe!

    • says

      Hi Leia – yes, it was a late-night type-o. Thanks to Andrew for pointing it out so we could fix it. That would be a difficult cancellation to make. I think I would have invented a very marvellous excuse instead! Thanks for sharing :)

  2. says

    My recital near-disaster happened just this weekend. My student was set to play at a Gala Concert for award winners at a national conservatory and the MC announced partway “… and we’ll hear 3 more before we break to mingle…” My student counted down the list to discover that he would be the first of the next section so he settled in to eat a bit of his dinner. At the end of the third song, the MC said “oh, let’s hear just one more”! So my student, mid-bite, dropped his fork, & had to climb to the stage. He thrives on pressure and the song was nearly flawless!

  3. Jeannie Myers says

    Usually I have recitals out at the Assisted Living Facility; however, last year, because of football finals and band UIL’s, I just could not find a date for my recital. My pastor suggested something unique that worked great! He gave me 10 to 15 minutes the 5 Sunday’s of Advent to have students come play. The congregation at my church are basically retired so they loved the little kids. This gave me 5 dates to book the different students so we had 5 or 6 ‘specials’ every Sunday of Advent.

  4. Michelle Miller says

    This was last year: I was determined that this recital, with all my years of experience and lessons learned from previous recitals, would be the best ever. It would be absolutely perfect! I started preparing pieces with the students in November and the beginning of December was a whirlwind of planning the program, assigning MC roles to the older students and constant email reminders of the date and time to parents. My husband asked if we could please start on time this year and not ten or fifteen minutes late as is the usual case. So, I added that to the email reminders…over and over again. I attached a map to the Evite invitation and the week before the recital I finalized the program, spell checking everything and adding a Christmas wordsearch to the back of the program so that any restless students might find something to do quietly during the recital (wasn’t that a clever idea! I thought so, too!) The day before the recital arrived, I picked up the freshly printed programs from Staples and with the help of my two little elves we folded all 100 and put together 35 treat bags one for each performing student. Then I gathered all the accompaniment CD’s I would need, rhythm instruments for the ensembles the little ones would play and the napkins and cups for the reception that always follows and had it bagged up and by the front door. I was on a roll! Normally, I would be doing this on the day of recital…in a blind panic…but not this year!

    The day of recital dawned and I felt terrific. The only things left to do for the day were to go get my hair cut and styled and dress for the recital. I finally had it all mastered! After helping out at the school for a bit and puttering around double checking my list, I was off to get my hair done. It was a wonderful day and so relaxing. But as I was getting my hair done, the weather which had been extremely chilly to begin, with seemed to want to brew up some kind of storm! How dare it! Well, I just tried to ignore it. I was sure it would probably blow over before the evening….it didn’t. As I put on my cute new tulip skirt, pale pink cashmere sweater and high-heeled boots, the snow just kept on blowing. We decided we had better leave extra early, it would not look good if everyone was lined up outside the church in this cold weather waiting for me.

    It felt like a long and treacherous drive, but we made it to the church with a half hour to spare, exactly what I hoped for and got the church opened up just as everyone began to arrive. My older students began directing everyone: refreshments to the fireside room, then into the auditorium where those recital programs were being handed out. We moved the grand piano to a precise location so the performers could be seen as they played, and I set out the music stands and instruments for the rhythm ensembles and had the treat bags ready to go. I was all set and with just over 5 minutes to spare, I grabbed a recital program and started checking off the students who were arriving so I would know when everyone was there. My husband tapped his watch as a gentle reminder to start on time, please!! I was just waiting for one more family to arrive; we would start on time. And that’s when it happened!

    I looked down at my program and realized that I had misspelled a student’s last name. It wasn’t a huge spelling mistake, just one letter, but darn it!! As I was frowning over this, another student leaned over to me and said, “Mrs. Miller, I am kind of shocked that you would put this wordsearch on the program.” I dragged my eye off of the typo and onto the back of his program to the clever little wordseach I had added and followed the words down to his finger: “baby”, “manger”, “sheep”, “ox”, “ass“…my eyes did a double take back to the word by his finger but there was no mistaking it. I had printed that three letter word for donkey on the Christmas recital! The word that causes elementary students to gasp and call a swear word and junior high students to giggle over and point at. (That’s what I get for pasting a wordsearch from a UK site on my program! I should have used Canadian content, they would certainly have used the word donkey instead!) But how did I miss it? My face began to heat up and I apologized profusely and looked around to see who else might have noticed it, thinking of all the 6 and 7-year-old students with their newfound reading skills. Then there was tug on my arm. One of my little students had the recital program in his hand….oh no!!! But his finger was not pointing at the word search on the back, it was pointing at his name. His last name to be exact. Great, I had misspelled another last name, but as I looked closer it hit me, I had not misspelled his last name, I had given him the wrong last name altogether! He was horrified and rightfully so, I would be too if I were 8 years old and my teacher had assigned me a completely different last name on the program. I broke out into a sweat and my face got even hotter and I began apologizing again when there was yet another tug at my arm. I looked down and it was the youngest child of one of my families, they had arrived. Now everyone was here and we could begin the recital, but she looked up at me and said, “My sister couldn’t come she is really sick.” Her sister was one of my MC’s, in fact she was one of the first MC’s on the program. I quickly grabbed my daughter and told her that she was going to have to MC alone as her partner was sick. Horrified, she said, “No way!” so in a panic we began asking some of the older students if one of them would help her out. After several no’s, we finally got a yes! My head was spinning. Could I finally get this recital started?? Then I looked up at the clock: 6:40pm! I was ten minutes late…and after all those email reminders! Sigh…full of humility and with my new little cashmere sweater already drenched in sweat, I dragged my feet up to the front of the auditorium hoping the earth would swallow me up on my way down the aisle. It didn’t. So, instead, I wecomed everyone to the 10th annual Christmas recital and we began.

  5. Geneva says

    Every year I say I’ll never have another recital, every year I do and every year I get sick and end up sick for about 3 days after the recital. Not so much a personal fear but so many things can and have gone wrong over the years, it’s hard to not get paranoid and start looking for an unseen axe to fall in the middle of everything. That said, my recitals are usually well attended, the performances are great and compliments are abundant. It’s just that things can and do go wrong.

    The worst is getting bumped from the church for something else, like a funeral and that always happens almost too late to do anything about it. The last time the church had the funeral in the afternoon and I had the hall at night with all the flowers that were so beautiful. So, if that ever happens to you, changing the hour for recital might be a good idea.

    Gen

  6. says

    Great post ! Thanks for sharing all of your stories. Any tips on getting students to practice more efficiently to be better prepared for recitals ? Great idea about the church and assisted living facility, I am sure they enjoyed the performance.

  7. Hope Noar says

    My recital disaster happened a few years ago when I had my recital at a local music store. The person who booked my recital, also booked another piano teacher’s recital at the same time and same place by mistake. So we ended up dividing the store in half. But her recital had speakers and mikes and was very loud because everything was amplified. She charged the kids a lot and gave out trophies to every student…..announcing them over the microphone. My students had to perform with all that noise. It was no fun, but we all got through it!

  8. says

    I had a recital a few years back that the staff from the local newspaper attended and culminated in a teacher interview for the paper and student interviews at the reception. The story ended up making the front page of the local Sunday paper and they decided to print the ENTIRE program as well as pictures of the kids. Great exposure, right? Well, unfortunately, I had misspelled one of the adult students last names and they decided to list her name not once, but 3 TIMES in the article. She was very upset with me.

    • says

      This is my nightmare too – with all the Hailey Hayley Hehley and Aiden Aidan Ayden and Ashleigh Ashley Kayleigh Kaylee Kaylie… it’s bound to happen at some point!

  9. says

    My recitals have typically gone well in the past. I have had the misspelled names, even omitted names (oops…), no shows, and blizzards to contend with, but every year, despite the glitches, the positive feedback I get from parents is overwhelming. It makes it all worth it!
    My one thing that I do constantly struggle with is my dreams. Yes… my dreams. I ALWAYS have vivid nightmares in the weeks leading up to the recital of all sorts of disasters happening. Students forget their music. The piano is missing 3 octaves. Middle C doesn’t work. There is NO piano. Random people show up and cheer in the middle of the recital. I’m wearing my pj’s to the recital. And so the dreams go on. After 10+ years of teaching I’ve come to accept my nightmares as my way of dealing with the stress. They used to really freak my out, but now I simply laugh at them.
    Maybe I’m weird. Does anyone else have this problem…???? LOL!

  10. Noreen Wensely says

    My biggest disaster was when the security alarm went off at the venue where I was to hold a major recital, and the security code given to me wasn’t correct. I was at a loss about what to do, because the alarm was utterly deafening; then the police arrived, assuming a break-in was in progress; I couldn’t get hold of anyone to find out the correct password to turn the system off; and I thought the entire recital would have to be cancelled. Meanwhile, the businesses next door were also affected by the alarms, and I had annoyed business owners breathing down my neck. Half an hour later, I was finally able to get hold of somebody by phone, got the right security code, and turned the alarms off, only 15 minutes before my recital began. It was a horrid experience and has made me paranoid about security systems ever since.

    I have the good fortune to be allowed the use of the incredible pianos at a local piano dealers’ store. My students can play an assortment of pianos worth up to $250,000, which is why we go to this piano showroom in the first place. At the time, the owner was going through some medical problems, wrote down the wrong security code on a business card, and I’ll chalk it up to her being “medicated” at the time. It had never happened before, and thankfully it’s never happened since.

    • says

      Hi Noreen – that would be terrible! I’ve set one off before as well and it’s absolutely ear piercing! I’m sure you’re one of the few teachers who has had police attend their recital! Thanks for sharing your story :)

  11. Victoria Shaw says

    As a new student teacher, I have not had many recital errors or scares but last year I had one student who procrastinated in practicing. Incentives did not work and I braces myself for the worst. Come the recital, she takes the stage WITHOUT her book (which is not what we practiced). My heart was beating in Vicace as she started to play and she did marvelous. If only she would’ve not fried my nerves so early!

    • says

      Hi Victoria – Great story! I have a student like that. She’s a total loose canon…. she’s either brilliant or awful. I never know what to expect and I sweat it out every time she’s on stage!

  12. Holly Kukkonen says

    After over 30 years teaching, I still have nightmares. The most recent one had me at the venue with no programs, no plates, cups or napkins, and as I was setting up, I realized that there were people setting up for a puppet show in the same area! You can fill in the rest! My favorite personal recital “disaster” (it has become a great story through the years) was when our 4 year old son was on the recital program playing two extremely simple songs. So, he came up to the bench and got settled down and I said, OK, lets play your first song. He said Nuh-uh! So I said how about the other song? and he just shook his head, no. He hopped off the piano bench to some applause and I explained that he’d play the next time, and he did. What makes this story even funnier is this: fast forward a couple of years, and our youngest, our daughter, is on the program. She gets on the bench facing the audience and swings around to face the piano. The audience giggles, because she is darned cute, all dressed up in her little sailor dress. So I asked her if she was ready to play and she said no. She later told me that she didn’t want to play because the audience was laughing at her! What a record! She went on to be an accomplished cellist, performing difficult pieces frequently!

    • says

      Hi Holly! That’s just priceless :) Our daughter, Lexi, plays at our recitals too and I know the pressure you feel as parent/piano teacher! Great story.

  13. joy shreckengost says

    On the day of my school’s piano recital, we had a snow storm. Since we live on the coast, a snow storm puts everything to a halt. Getting a time in amongst the school sports and other activities is very difficult – but I did manage to reschedule about 3 weeks later and the kids enjoyed the extra practice time.

    • says

      Hi Joy – I hear you about rescheduling. I did so as well one year due to a huge snow storm… and ended up not being able to find a date that worked until February! So… we had a Valentines concert and it was lovely :)

  14. says

    It was a nice sunny morning on Saturday, May 15, 2010. Everything was loaded up and ready to go. Then we arrived at the recital location. It started out with unloading, tulip plants were accidentally dropped. What were beautiful purple tulips for my adult students that were performing, were now sticks. While that is frustrating, it could be worse. Thankfully my husbands parents live close and were able to stop by the store and pick up replacement plants in time.

    Then we went inside to set up. The grand piano was still in the lobby, I was told it would be on stage ready to go. The digital was on stage (needed the digital for a piano team performance) but still on it’s dolly. So I asked the house manager who was the only one there and she said it should have been all taken care of last night. LUCKILY my husband was with me and he helped her get it on stage. Not only was it EXTREMELY dusty but of course out of tune. Not terrible, but still not what I would have liked.

    Then my PA system wouldn’t work, my husband figured out it was a bad mic cable which was weird because we just used it days prior in my lab room. Luckily they had another cable I could use.

    Then we didn’t have a bench for the grand piano. FINALLY at the last minute and searching everywhere the house manager found it.

    Then the icing in the cake! I was the first one to play (thank goodness) and when I went to push the pedal down before I started to play the pedal fell off the piano!!!!!!! I couldn’t believe it. So I looked over at my husband in the audience and said “I need you!” with a desparate look of Help! This by the way is on video. So bless his wonderful heart, my husband came on stage got under the piano and then I had to join him and get down on my hands on knees to help in my dress in front of everyone. (This is NOT on the video) Can you imagine? My husband was able to fix it, thank heaven’s and even received a rousing applause. My hero of the day!

    In the end, performances were played, awards and recognitions were given. All in all, it was an EPIC challenge (as my son would say) but at least every problem we had was solved in the end.

  15. Brittany Roque says

    Well, I can say that I’d had a good many recitals with my students over the years and there is always one little glitch in each one that is avoidable. I did, however, have one complete disaster recital a few years ago (brace yourself, its quite the story!)
    Three years ago, I decided to have a Christmas Recital with my students. It had been quite a number of years since I had done one, and all the parents had been asking about it. So we did. After I settled the date & time with a local university recital hall, I sent out info to the parents. One family with 4 children had conflicts all around. But she really wanted them to do it. She asked me to change the time twice to accomadate their very busy schedule. So I was trying to be nice, and worked with her (since she was the only person to have schedule conflicts!) So the day of the recital comes and my dad and I went to get things set up and ready about 90 mins early, only to find out the university did not leave a key to the recital hall like they said they would! So there I was, having a panic attack because I had students and their families arriving within an hour and a locked recital hall. Of course, it was in the evening and all the offices were closed. There wasnt a single professor still there (of course). I ended up calling security and explained the situation. They said, well, it will be about a half hour before we can make it over there (what?! are you not on campus?! Keep in mind, this is not a small university either) So I panicked some more and prayed that they would make it in time. After about 45 mins they showed up and opened the place for me. Whew, that was close! As students began arriving, I checked them off my list and got them all situated back stage. One little girl comes rushing up and says, “Miss Brittany! I left my music at home!! Can I use yours?!” Now keep in mind, the day prior, I sent a reminder with the words, PLEASE REMEMBER TO BRING ALL YOUR MUSIC, EVEN IF YOU ARE PLAYING BY MEMORY. MISS BRITTANY WILL NOT BE ABLE TO BRING EXTRA MUSIC FOR EVERYONE! I’ll let you can imagine the look on my face. Her mom had to drive all the way home and get it, literally walking in just as it was her turn to go on. Then, the lady with the 4 busy kids comes running up and says, “Sarah has a basketball practice in an hour so shes going to need to move up in the program. And Emily and Josh are both still at their basketball games. They will be here in about an hour, they will probably need moved as well. And Jake is changing into his dress clothes now.” I was dumbfounded. Here I moved the whole thing around to suit her and she still moved things around on me. Ugh so everything just snowballed from there. A father took a phone call right in the middle of one of the other students performances. Rather loudly. The recital hall doors locked from the outside so if people left they could not get back in (even though I announced that, and it was entirely out of my control) so one mom was not happy and chewed me out backstage during the recital. I had to walk all the way across the stage to let her in. Then my last student to perform got lost on her way there. She was an hour and a half late and just barely made her performance. Ugh. I even ran out of programs because I didnt expect 300 PEOPLE TO COME FOR APPROX. 30 STUDENTS!!
    I have never done another Christmas Recital.

    • says

      Oh Brittany… I’m sorry but I laughed my entire way through reading your story! I think it’s funny to me because almost every single one of those things has happened to me! It’s always the families you work around the most that end up causing a problem isn’t it?! And yes.. I’ve stood there with locked doors sweating profusely as well. Actually… one year I stood there waiting for a Christmas pageant rehearsal that was running severely over time as my recital attendees lined up outside. I’m surprised I didn’t have a heart attack. Your story hit so close to home… sorry that you haven’t attempted another one again.. but I totally understand! :)

  16. says

    Not a recital but a live radio broadcast to well over 1 million people. I had to include the the English National Anthem (God save the Queen) as her representative was there. I live in the Isle of Man which is a crown dependency and we have our own anthem also! The time came. They got the Intro to the English anthem and I started to play the Manx anthem! The ‘Oh Shit!’ Was very audible and the fade out on the radio rather abrupt. His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor at the time called me over. Off with my head? Nope…. he told me he hadn’t found anything quite so amusing in a long time. The congregation of 1200 tried singing God Save the Queen to the tune with me playing the Manx anthem. Oops :)

  17. Sarah Lyons says

    My student’s spring recitals are held at 3 retirement homes in town. A few years ago at the first location, the retirees were holding choir practice in the room by our recital location. Needless to say, the seniors were singing MUCH louder than my students were able to play. The kids did a great job despite the distraction, so I was proud of them! The choir director came down after practice and apologized as she hadn’t realized that a recital was scheduled!

  18. Emily F. says

    Like you, a few years back the church I had set up for our recital was double booked and I didn’t know it until the day before. Thankfully, the church had two rooms that had pianos and so we were able to meet in the other room that wasn’t being used.

  19. Janelle says

    Wouldn’t you know it – I’m dealing with a similar complication this year! I booked our recital hall four months in advance, and now two weeks before the recital (after guests have been invited and parents have cleared their schedules), the church informs me that we can’t have the hall – they have booked a Celebration of Life memorial! Trying to find another suitable venue that’s not already booked this close to Christmas is not fun!

  20. Jan says

    I usually hold my recitals on a Sunday afternoon. So I planned everything around this one particular Sunday. On the day of the recital one family came up to me and said they needed to leave early because they had several people coming over their house to watch the Red Wings on Tv ( I am not a sports fan so I had no idea what a big deal it was), so I said okay just sit toward the back so as not to disturb the others. About 5 students into the recital I looked out into the audience and noticed several empty spots. After each student played their piece, their families would leave. By the time the last student played there were 4 people left, the students mother, father and two grandparents. I thought that was the most rude act I had ever seen. I guess the Red Wings won out over a piano recital. Needless to say I never let that happen again.

  21. Suzanne says

    I’ll never forget the time that I was accompanying the choir. We’d moved the piano to a different angle in order to be able to see and follow easier. Every time that I pressed the pedal, the piano would move further away! Little did I know how easy it could roll. I, needless to say, was sweating bullets while the piano kept inching further and further away from the bench. I was very thankful that my page turner noticed and was able to pull the piano back to me -she needed to do it several times during the performance! I now always check to see how firm the piano sits in its’ place – and put the brakes on if the piano has them on the wheels.

  22. says

    I, too, say “I don’t know if I can do this another year!” every year, but seeing the families continue to support is SO gratifying. I am very glad to know I’m not the only one who has misspelled names or left out names from the program! I have a rather small studio, so it’s easy to get nearly everyone there on the day. I had 1 girl start crying on me prior to the start of the program. I’m not sure what I said to her, but she ended up playing fine (1st performance). She did not continue the next year, though! Sometimes the ones you think you will have for years and years quite and the ones you wish WOULD quite stay on. Oh well; that’s the way it goes!

  23. Emily Bass says

    This past year I had my first transgender student.I have taught for 38 years and this is a first. I have taught this child since he was 5 and now he is almost 18. Two years ago the transformation happened and I have it stuck in my brain that this child is still female. I got over the name change fine but the pronoun seems to be my problem. I have talked to myself over and over about not calling” he” a “she” . I pretty much have made the transition reasonably well. In June the child’s father called me the afternoon, before the end of the year recital and threatened me that if I called “him” a “her” that that would be totally unforgivable and I would be banished from this student’s life forever. I was obsessed with the thought that i’d mess up in public and die of embarrassment. It went perfectly smoothly ….the child played well and I did not mess up in my introduction of the student …..but in retrospect…..it is VERY hard to mentally change the sex of a person that you’ve had an with in a close teacher /student relationship with for 13 years and then to be threatened by a parent is really a bit much.

  24. Liz H says

    I live in a small town and our local music store went out of business. There is another local store that I’m the back has a large room and baby grand piano So that is where our recitals happen. Our summer recital there went fine. This Winter recital has me upset. From the super ivy steps we had to walk up, the filthy carpet in the room and ants on the counters I was feeling frustrated. I played around quickly on the piano before hand and it sounded a little out of tune. But then the recital started and with most off my student I played 1 duet with them and the lower half of the piano was very out of tune. For some reason it did not register playing soft only loud. By the end of the recital I am afraid my face was bright red with a mixture of fuming anger and embarrassment.
    They will be receiving an ear full from me when I go turn the key. ..

  25. D'Ann Beck says

    Well, the worst recital memory that I have is the year that I allowed a very awkward 7th grader play on the recital even though I knew that he had not practiced his piece well enough. I thought in the back of my mind that either he would practice a great deal and pull it off in the end, or it would “teach him a lesson.” He had a very bad attitude and thought he “knew everything.” Well, I had switched the concert bench with a regular bench for a duet that the program started with and thought I would leave it there for other duets to come. When it came his turn, he walked up there and for no good reason, asked if he could have the concert bench. I said nothing, just looked at him with a blank stare. He proceeded to scoot the benches around and made noise on the floor. Then he played his pieces in the worst way possible. Stumbling and bumbling his way through. Closed his book, moved the benches back and raced for the back door. Thankfully his parents were not in attendance because he wouldn’t let them come. They would have wanted to crawl under their chairs. The email following with his Dad was as awkward as he was and eventually he quit piano. Never again will I allow a student to play who is unprepared. I “learned MY lesson!”

  26. Joanne says

    What if the teacher messed up their piece right in front of all the students and the parents at the performance. Do you think this is the end of the world? How did you cope after the recital? Any tips on avoiding this happening in the future? How did you face parents at the next lesson? :)

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