4 free piano performance venues expand student experience, build community

Each time I took my students to a local senior’s home to play for the residents, an elderly lady would play a piece she had memorized in her youth. It was very special to witness, as she had dementia and had no short-term memory. She’d jump up, announce that she could play, too, and play her piece with much aplomb. This would happen three of four times in each afternoon performance. My students and their parents applauded her each time, encouraging her, not letting on that she had jumped up several times already and done the same thing. We felt lucky that we all shared the same love in common — piano music — and nothing could break that bond, not even the loss of memory.

A senior who knows how to play has something to share, too!

One challenge we piano teachers face is finding affordable performance venues in order to give our students experience playing for others. It’s ideal for our students to be able to perform several times a year, but if you are faced with renting a hall, this can get costly.

There are in fact many places that offer the chance for your students to perform — FREE!

But beyond just saving the expense of renting a hall or church, wouldn’t it be great if the opportunity to perform also came with the added benefits of community-building, volunteering, and giving back?

Imagine what can be accomplished in your community by students who spread the joy of music! Volunteering to play for others (or learning the value of performing socially) develops a whole set of skills that can’t be learned in a recital or exam. Plus, the venues are free! It’s win-win-win for piano students, teachers and your community! 

The following four venues all come loaded with extra benefits. The venues:

  • Are FREE
  • Are alternatives to a formal recital
  • Expand students’ musical experience
  • Encourage social music-making
  • Encourage giving back to the community

1. Senior’s home

If you truly want your music to spread cheer throughout the holiday season, contact a local senior’s home in your area and ask them about programming a piano recital for their residents.

Be prepared, yourself, to lead a short sing-song of carols if this plan falls in December (or, at other times of the year, popular songs they would know). Encouraging singing is a true gift of cheer.

A Sunday afternoon of music helps cheer seniors and kids alike.

I find seniors’ homes have no shortage of events in December and might welcome an event in a month like January, instead. A music program might be welcome in the middle of winter when programming is less busy.

This student is ready to play his favourite music for the home’s residents.

It is very special to bring children and seniors together. It builds generational bridges in your community: seniors experience joy seeing children and kids learn compassion spending time with elderly folks. Watch this video of an elderly lady with dementia who joined in to play for my students!

Ruth Lawley (former owner of Lawley’s Music Stand, a music store in Halifax, NS) with dementia plays “Ain’t She Sweet,” a song made popular in the roaring 1920s.

2. Church tea

Many churches hold fundraising Christmas teas and craft sales as the giving season draws near. Watch for posters in your area or Facebook announcements and take note of who to contact (for this year or next) to see if they’d be interested in a little background music for their event.

A student performs for a church tea.

The church may have a piano or keyboard, or you might transport your own.

If your studio parents stay for the tea or shop the craft displays, your presence will benefit the church’s fundraiser.

Building a relationship with a local congregation can be a win-win set-up. If your parents become supporters of church fundraisers, the church might be willing to negotiate a lower price on a future rental of their sanctuary for a more formal recital later in the lesson year.

3. Town shopping party or Santa event

If your town or community has a shopping party or a scheduled visit from the jolly old elf himself, ask the organizers if your students could provide musical entertainment for the children who are waiting in line for their turn.

A student performs for Santa, Mrs. Claus and the families waiting to see them.

This is a wonderful opportunity for your students to build a sense of community spirit and giving back. Playing for free for others is a form of volunteering, and it is a great source of joy to give music.

Playing for a Santa event also makes you visible in the community as a friendly piano teacher. You could have a poster on your keyboard with a message like, “You’re enjoying music played by piano students of [your name].” You could give out candy canes to kids passing by with a note attached, “Compliments of [your piano studio name here]”.

Piano students volunteer to play for the Children’s Christmas community event.

One year I was contacted by a family in the community who knew about me because of our Santa Land performances. They offered to give a generous bursary to my studio in memory of their beloved deceased sibling. In turn, I offered several families a financial break on their tuition and my student recipients wrote cards of thanks to the family. When you give freely, the world just seems to give back.

4. Homestyle Christmas party

A party is always a joyful occasion. Through the years I’ve felt that children should see music-making in informal settings like home get-togethers. Music shouldn’t only be performed in formal settings like festivals, exams or recitals. Music takes on a new life and meaning in a social setting.

The music party starts with a showcase of student talent. Everyone shares!

When my husband and I host our annual Solstice/Christmas Ceilidh we invite past and present students, friends and some colleagues. It started in the days when I was still presenting a formal Christmas recital but two adult students were too nervous to perform on stage. I created a party atmosphere to take the pressure off but still give them an audience. Ever since we’ve hosted only the party.

We usually begin the evening early, at 6:30 PM, to accommodate young families, and the student showcase begins at around 7:00 PM. All of my students play their favourite music, usually Christmas music. We play duets, sometimes have background jingle bells shaking in time, and sometimes people sing along. They learn the skill of collaborative music-making. Essentially, jamming! Some young families leave early, others stay late. The kids usually run off to their own parallel party in a different room, but vicariously witness the community of music-making as the adults take over the music. Watch this video!

With this song it was our goal to emulate Jimmy Fallon’s ‘Classroom Instruments’ videos.

Not only are these venues free, performing in them teaches so much to young musicians about all the ways music can enhance real life! One thing is sure, much joy is spread through music in these four settings!

  • Seniors homes
  • Church teas
  • Community shopping and Santa events
  • Home-style parties

Do you know of other ideal locations for FREE performance venues? Have you planned a successful, affordable performance for your students? Let us know in the comments below!

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I appreciate shares, comments and likes. Happy teaching!

Video of the week

Jingle Bell Swing from Old MacDonald had the Blues, Late Elementary to Early Intermediate piano solos, 12 familiar tunes arranged in today’s popular styles. Jingle Bell Swing is a cool jazz number with repeated patterns that sounds hard but is easy to teach, and can be taught by note and rote.

Jingle Bell Swing from Old MacDonald had the Blues

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