Student cancels recital performance..

Connie Sunday said: Aug 12, 2012
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

I’m curious to know what other teachers would do in this circumstance. I teach a little boy who very much wants to play the violin, but resists any criticism, however gently presented, and gets frustrted (and angry), easily, blaming the teacher, the book—just anything but take responsibility. Never had a student quite like that before, exactly.

We’re having an end-of-summer, beginning student recital in a week and I got a lengthy text message from mom, saying that this student’s dad scheduled a vacation and he won’t be able to make the recital.

I don’t believe this story, frankly; I think student told mom he didn’t want to play in the recital (though his piece is well prepared, as well as his group participation). They already paid for this month but apparently they’re going to be gone the rest of the month (my students pay by the month).

Given that I pretty carefully coordinated with all the parents, to make sure everyone could attend, I feel like firing him, saying that recital attendance is not optional.

What would you do?


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Sue Hunt said: Aug 13, 2012
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
390 posts

Family vacation time can be hard to schedule. I’d give them the benefit of the doubt.

Praising for hard work and focus rather than for good results and talent will make all the difference. See The Right Kind of Praise.

Connie Sunday said: Aug 13, 2012
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

What I’m asking, specifically, is what each teacher would do. “What would you do?” is the inquiry.

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Phyllis Calderon said: Aug 13, 2012
Phyllis CalderonViolin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Suzuki in the Schools, Piano
Chicago, IL
22 posts

You stated that your student resists criticism no matter how gently you provide it. I have a student (a middle schooler now) who (still) cries when I gently correct her about something. (She has gotten better about not stuffing but communicating.) Even after I have explained to her to let me know in words what she doesn’t understand, she sometimes still reverts back to crying when it is not perfect or doesn’t get it. I have spoken to her mom about this issue, too, and have given her tips on how to gently praise her rather than focus on what doesn’t sound right.

What is the dynamic between the boy and his mother? There could be something there which is directly related to why he doesn’t receive criticism well.

What would I do in this situation? Even after you have spoken to the parent about your expectations as a teacher and what you expect from both the student and parent, and seeing how there has been a lack of positive response from the student when you give feedback, and especially the student not wanting to accept/take responsibility, I would discontinue the lessons. This may seem harsh but your time as a teacher is valuable and I’m sure you’d rather teach someone who wants to learn. And wanting to learn requires listening to and applying constructive criticism. After all, this is how one grows and becomes better. Students learn about responsibility at a young age AT HOME!

And I have a similar situation currently but it is the parent not wanting to take responsibility. After firmly speaking to the parent (and yes, she has viewed studio policy and attended an orientation (which is required before lessons begin), she chooses to make excuses as to why her girls aren’t practicing (i.e., she’s back in school, too busy…) and then wonders why they are not progressing. I have given them how-to’s on practicing given how busy she is having gone back to school. I am very specific in what they should master for that week and never assign too much. But now, I have a decision to make as to continue them on for the fall term.

Phyllis Calderon
Director, String Instructor
A Touch of Classical Plus, Inc.—Calderon Music Studio

Connie Sunday said: Aug 13, 2012
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

It’s really reassuring to hear that other teachers have these problems. Now I’ve had altogether five students cancelling and I cancelled the recital. It’s at least partially my fault. I probably didn’t make it clear to everyone that if they couldn’t make it, they should let me know so I can reschedule. I’ve done this for so long, I just assumed everyone would know that. But I have lots of new students and they didn’t. I’ll do it better next time.

I guess the main thing for me to remember is that my ego is not involved; the best thing for the children should be my primary concern. I heard from the mother of he child I was writing about initially, and she wrote: “You are a great instructor, I am so happy we found you, thanks for all you do.”

As important as music study is to me, and teaching, I have to be reminded sometimes that in the case of many students, it is not the central focus of their life.

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Barb said: Aug 13, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
678 posts

I would

  1. Never critique a recital performance of a young student. Focus on things that went well and praise the student for hard work leading to the performance. (Of course if there is a disaster I don’t deny it, but don’t dwell on it.) If the student does not like to perform I praise them for doing it in spite of this.

  2. Review again with the parents how important recital performances are, have a clear policy regarding attendance, and give them warning that he must attend x number per year, or CANNOT miss another—whatever the policy is. I would not dismiss a student based on missing one recital, however lame the excuse is.

  3. Give the students a lot of performing opportunities.

Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Cleo Ann Brimhall said: Aug 14, 2012
Cleo Ann BrimhallTeacher Trainer
Suzuki Association Member
West Jordan, UT
39 posts

I have worked with very sensitive students. One thing that has worked for me is to tell them they played very well and I have one suggestion that will make it even better. Even asking if they would like me to share it.

Recitals: 2 examples
First I had a 10 year old student who wanted pop instead of classic and also did not want to perform in recitals. I explained that the classical music prepared a pianist to play anything they desired. I suggested that she try some pop music for her reading assignment. I would not hear it at lesson unless she came across something she didn’t understand or had a hard time with technically. That settled her down and I didn’t hear anything more about it.
But the recital thing—I told her she didn’t have to perform at every recital (I have several during the year) but I expected her to do at least one a year.
She now has her University Master of Music Degree as a performance major and is teaching.

As for new and shy students, they attend recitals, their name is on the program, but I always ask them if they are ready to play and it OK if they don’t want to. One student attended four recitals before he suddenly said he wanted to play.

We are not teaching music—we are teaching the child. Never Hurt anybody’s Heart (Dr. Suzuki) He also taught that there no bad students, only bad parents. And there are no bad parents, only bad teachers. Parents need constant repetition and nurturing just as much as the child does.


Connie Sunday said: Aug 14, 2012
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

As for new and shy students, they attend recitals, their name is on the program, but I always ask them if they are ready to play and it OK if they don’t want to. One student attended four recitals before he suddenly said he wanted to play.

I do that too, always. No one has ever not wanted to play, yet.

It’s still a good subject area for discussion, but in this instance, looks like I was upset for nothing. There is in Hispanic male students a bit of machismo which I find disarming; this student’s brother is a new Marine recruit (though the student tells me he wants to be a professional musician). So, sensitivity is required to be sure; the trick is drawing the line between understanding and standing up for your policies.

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Julie Stroud said: Aug 14, 2012
Julie StroudViolin, Viola
11 posts

And might I add that if there are no bad students or parents, there probably aren’t any bad teachers either…just ten thousand ideas we haven’t tried yet. :)


Julie Stroud

Mikaela said: Aug 16, 2012
Mikaela CashViolin, Viola
28 posts

I had two students (in two different leagues in two different cities) cancel the day before/the day of my spring recital because they made it to a sports championship game. Arghh! Both lost soundly, and I’m hoping next time music will trump sports. However, I’m considering implementing a new idea presented by a piano teacher friend of mine. When he has a student cancel last minute on a performance, the next year, he won’t allow them to play because he tells them he cannot count on them to follow through. Seems like a marvelous way to teach a lesson and help students realize how much scrambling teachers have to do for a last-minute cancellation! What do you all think?

CMSunday, you said, “I guess the main thing for me to remember is that my ego is not involved; the best thing for the children should be my primary concern.” That is so true—missing one recital isn’t going to hurt a child’s musical education, and often it is just my own irritation at having put so much time and effort into preparing a child, only to have him cancel last-minute, that comes through. However, this is also an excellent opportunity to teach character—faithfulness, commitment, integrity, sacrifice, and courage—to a child who will always drop recital when something new and exciting comes up. So, if I go at it with the right motive, I can have a valuable learning moment on my hands.

Rhonda said: Aug 17, 2012
Suzuki Association Member
Edmonton, AB
12 posts

As a parent, I’m always trying to make sure that the punishment is logical to the child. I’m not convinced that not allowing them to play in next year’s recital would be a logical punishment. If next year’s recital is one year away, the child will have forgotten about missing last year’s recital. The parent will also feel it’s unfair. Unless there are very frequent concerts and the punishment will occur soon after the “crime”, I wouldn’t personally take this approach.
I think the punishment is already present without the teacher having to “do” anything: 1. missed the recital. 2. The child worked hard to prepare and then plans changed last minute. 3. The child looked forward to having refreshments afterwards and playing with the other kids—they missed out on that too. 4. Child lost championship game and missed the recital.

Have a conversation with the parents about how much work goes into recitals. Talk about the character traits of faithfulness, courage, commitment etc.

Last year I started something new which motivates the younger kids to come to recitals.
I take a picture of the performers at the end of every recital and put them on the bulletin board. All the students really like these pictures and they will ask questions like “Why wasn’t I there?”

There will always be some last minute cancellations for recitals, sometimes due to ignorance and sometimes due to life’s circumstances. We have to learn to be flexible, not take it personally (big challenge) and make the necessary adjustments.

Nina Black said: Aug 17, 2012
Nina Black
Suzuki Association Member
Modesto, CA
10 posts

I’ve been a teacher for many years, but also was a Suzuki parent of four children who were also involved in other activities they enjoyed, including sports. There were times that they prepared carefully for a recital or Play-In, only to find out that they had a “required” school event (concert, sport event) come up that affected their grade. We also had a few family emergencies where we had to leave town to help with an ill family member or a death. In once case, my husband had a business trip where he was suddenly gifted the opportunity to take our entire family for a last-minute, wonderful vacation. Yes, we missed recitals.

I learned to see it from both sides — as a teacher understanding the importance of commitment and preparation of the student as a musician; and as the parent being pulled in several directions at once.

I have a very large studio, and most of the students play at every recital. However, my rule is “family comes first”, and I’m also very understanding of school and sports commitments. Most families occasionally miss, but in the big picture, they all have that opportunity to prepare and perform on many occasions. These types of time conflicts and decisions will be a part of their entire lives and I want them to learn to balance them.

Christiane said: Aug 18, 2012
Christiane Pors-Sadoff
Suzuki Association Member
New York, NY
47 posts

I know this would not be feasible for larger groups, but I have a small group of families (around 8) that take lessons with me privately. The kids are super busy with sports and other extra curriculars. I schedule two concerts per year, one at a church and one at a nursing home. I make sure the students are so integral to the concert repertoire (ex: solo violin on a part of a Telemann 4 violin Concerto), that they feel the concert cannot be played without them—it’s actually true as they would require a sub if they missed! Then I send out an email with several available concert dates and ask the parents to pick a date that would work with the family schedule. This locks them further into the whole process, and they have not missed any recitals for several years now.

Christiane Pors
Mikomi Violin Studio
Kaufman Music Center
NYU Steinhardt

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