Collaborative piano recital allows piano students to develop their performance skills

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The University of Indianapolis held its annual Collaborative Piano Recital on April 14, an event that allows student pianists to work with other musicians, including singers and other instrumentalists, in an effort to build their collaborative performance skills, Director of Keyboard Studies and Assistant Professor of Piano Ryan Behan said. The recital’s program consisted of works written by composers spanning from the Baroque to the modern era, he said, and the purpose of the recital was to help piano students learn to play collaborative pieces instead of just solo work.

Photo by MaKenna Maschino Music students Ellie Jones and Cordale Hankins play the piano as music student Tori Condra plays the oboe. The annual Collaborative Piano Recital took place on April 14.

“The collaborative repertoire is a completely different animal, and you need to develop an entirely new skill set as a musician and performer and developing artist in order to be able to perform these pieces,” Behan said. “You, in many ways, need to be able to play your accompaniments better than your solo pieces because if you make a mistake in [a] solo piece, you’re not having an impact on anyone else but yourself. . . . Also in engaging in collaborative ensembles, one learns how to communicate with others and builds connections, skills that are extremely invaluable when one moves into the professional life.”

According to UIndy Events, there were eight pianists, seven vocalists, an oboist and a violinist. Piano students enrolled in the MUS 179: Collaborative Piano course are required to perform in the recital, Behan said, but the singers and instrumentalists are voluntary participants. Behan said the recital gives students a chance to appreciate the importance of working with other musicians. By performing in a collaborative setting, pianists are able to enrich the solo work that is such a large part of their regular repertoire, Behan said. 

“You could live 10 lifetimes and never get to play every piece of solo piano music ever written. Stepping outside of that momentarily seems like too big of a departure from your solo work,” Behan said. “But really, when you accompany a singer who is singing an aria by Mozart, you realize that Mozart wanted to be an opera composer and that when you learn his operas, it informs how you play his solo piano sonatas; you realize that there’s opera in the solo piano sonatas and it enriches your interpretation.”

Junior music therapy major Heather Dawson was one of the singers that volunteered for the recital. Dawson sang alongside freshman pianist Gabriel Harlan for their performance of “Voce di Donna” by Amilcare Ponchielli, which is an Italian piece that falls into the classical style, she said. Dawson said she volunteered for the recital because it was a chance for her to perform with another student and make music as a team effort.

“In my lessons, I have an accompanist that comes every week. I really have built a relationship with them,” Dawson said. “Working with a student that I don’t know very well, we’ve had to develop this relationship so when we performed it really felt like a team. I felt like when we went out there, it was two people performing and not just a vocalist or pianist, it was like an actual team going out there to perform.”

Photo by MaKenna Maschino Music student Cordale Hankins sings at the Collaborative Piano Recital. This recital allowed both singers and instrumentalists to learn how to work with other musicians.

While this recital helps piano students learn to perform collaboratively and in turn hone their skills as solo artists, Dawson said the experience also helped her to improve as a singer. She said it helped her with her self-discipline as well as helped her work on her communication skills in a performative setting.

“[It] helped me improve vocally, just utilizing more self-discipline, because there wasn’t anyone telling me I had to have this learned by this and this time,” Dawson said. “It was just the pressure of the concert. Being able to discipline myself and then working with, or collaborating with Gabe [Harlan] helped me out a lot too, like learning how to work with other people and communication.”

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