TEACHER FEATURE: Jonathan Roberts on Virtual Recitals for Students

This post is a follow-up, of sorts, to my post last week about how to get started teaching remote piano lessons. As we navigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, we face opportunities to not only adapt our teaching, but also our recital organizing!

Today, I bring you a bit of inspiration for how YOU could consider offering a recital opportunity to your students during these unprecedented times. My friend, Jonathan Roberts (organizer of the South Shore Piano Camp for which I’ve instructed the past two summers), recently organized a “virtual recital” featuring videos made by his students and then posted to YouTube. I have been considering doing something similar next month with my students. Seeing how Jon’s virtual recital turned out earlier this week has made me more inspired and motivated to take on this project!

Before you read on, check out Jon’s playlist here. I hope you enjoy Jon’s sense of humor in his opening/closing remarks video, as well as seeing his students play their prepared pieces in their own home environments.

Upon being asked, Jon was kind enough to agree to being interviewed about how he went about organizing and publishing his virtual recital. So, now that you’ve seen for yourself how it turned out, let’s have a conversation with Jon to learn more about this project!

Hi, Jon! Could you tell us a little bit about your studio and your students’ recent virtual recital?

Hi, Joy! Thank you so much for having me.

This past September, I expanded my home studio into a multi-teacher organization, the South Shore Piano School, in Quincy, MA (just south of Boston). We have doubled in size since then, with an enrollment of about 70 students right now, ranging in age from 4 to 67. In addition to weekly lessons, we run monthly student recitals and regular community “field trips” to hear world-class pianists, both solo and with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Our first-ever virtual recital was a project I put together shortly after school classes, after-school activities, and most public gatherings were suspended, seemingly overnight. On about 24 hours notice, we had to move over to online lessons pretty quickly, and we were actually supposed to have an in-person recital on Sunday, March 22nd.

Our students went from being quite busy between school and activities to being stuck at home with almost too much time now. And of course, everyone is worried and uncertain about COVID-19, students and parents alike. So, I wanted to put together something quickly…not only to keep the students engaged and excited about piano, but also to show how these skills we want to teach our students…creativity, problem-solving, outside-the-box thinking…apply outside of the studio in places we least expect, perhaps when we need them the very most.

I sent out an email about the project to the entire school, inviting anyone to participate who would like to play something. All they had to do was send in videos of their performances from home.

The virtual recital exists on YouTube in the form of a video playlist that auto-plays the next video from start to finish so the viewer(s) can just sit back and relax. I “emcee” the recital with video inserts of my own, in an attempt to replicate what I would normally do at our regular recitals. I originally hoped to live stream the event, “hosting” it live and streaming the pre-recorded videos to the live stream. But, with a pretty steep learning curve on that front, I decided to go with the “pre-recorded everything” playlist to ensure that everything went smoothly.

What instructions did you give your students for creating their videos? 

The instructions for students/families were fairly straightforward – just to send a video of their performances, by phone or by email. A video on a phone would do just fine, but families who have access to more advanced equipment (or editing skills) were welcome to be creative and edited up their own videos. I asked them to bow after the “last piece” of their performance.

Did all of your students participate?

Not all of them, but we had a good showing! 16 students submitted videos for this recital, and we have more students interested in the next one. Understandably, a lot of families are scrambling themselves to figure out their “new normal,” so I was thrilled to have this number.

What editing did you do for each video, and what equipment/resources did you use?

I used the video editor Screenflow, which is available for Mac at a very reasonable price. Screenflow also offers access to a ton of royalty-free stock images, sounds, and video clips for an incredibly reasonable price of $60 per year.  Reasonable is actually an understatement…the user has access to about 500,000 assets. So, you are limited only by your imagination with what you can do with this software.

I imported each video individually into Screenflow; it is as simple as dragging the video from iMessage into the timeline on Screenflow. If the students played multiple selections, I spliced the separate videos together. For bows at the beginning/end, I added in some “applause” from the Screenflow stock library. For some students, I also added in some video clips of a “virtual audience,” along with the applause sounds.

When each video was finished, I exported it, then uploaded it to our YouTube channel and added it to the “Virtual Recital” playlist.

Aside from this, I just used a Logitech webcam C920 for recording my portions from my home studio.

How much time would you estimate you spent on this project? 

All said and done, I probably spent about 3-4 hours on it, between acquiring and organizing the videos, editing them, and recording my own portions. Now that I have done it once, I think I can get it down to 2-3 hours tops.

What has been the response so far in your studio to your virtual recital?

The response has been extremely positive so far! The students love it that they are on YouTube. In addition, parents and students have been able to share the recital with family members all over the country and world who have been isolated on their own. Shortly after the recital, I received a very kind thank you email from the grandparents of one of our students, who have been in isolation in NY for nearly a week-and-a-half now. Many family members abroad have given feedback that this has been a very enjoyable experience in a time where a lot of people are feeling lonely and a little scared.

How often do you plan to organize these?

I am planning to organize these about every two weeks, as well as other online events, challenges, contests, and more. With everyone stuck at home, a month between events can feel like a very, very long time.

What else would you like us to know?

While this has been a huge change for everyone, this is our time to shine as creative people. While we cannot give our students the joy of live performance for a while, it is an opportunity to explore things we may not have considered before COVID-19. And with technology where it is now, one is limited only by the imagination. Despite social distancing, in a way, we can be more social than we ever were before with our students now that school, sports, and a multitude of other activities are not in the way anymore.

I must also give a couple of shout outs and thank yous. I never would have discovered the incredibly-easy-to-use Screenflow software if not for an article Mario Ajero wrote for Clavier Companion (now called Piano Magazine) back in 2014-2015 (I’m sure someone out there remembers the exact issue).

And I must say thank you and kudos times a million to all of the folks on The Art of Piano Pedagogy and the Online Music Teachers (headed up by Joey Lieber) Facebook groups. In a time of tremendous uncertainty and needing to pivot to online teaching at the drop of a dime, teachers all over the world have given their time and energy to help one another get set up for this “new normal” to keep their studios running and their students learning. We are a global community, and this showing of support has made me prouder than ever to be in this field.

Thanks so much, Jon, for generously sharing your story and experience with us! It was inspiring and helpful to hear about your virtual recital project!


Your turn: Have you ever held a virtual recital for your students? Was it similar to Jon’s, or did you do it another way? What are YOUR possible recital plans for the upcoming months? Please share in the comments below.

UPDATE: Jon created a video tutorial for editing videos in Screenflow and forming a YouTube playlist. Check it out here.

UPDATE: Here’s how my 2020 Virtual Recital with my students turned out!

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13 thoughts on “TEACHER FEATURE: Jonathan Roberts on Virtual Recitals for Students”

  1. This is awesome! My piano recital was originally set for tonight. I hadn’t yet come up with a plan, but I think I will try this as well. Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. That’s a very good question, Michelle. I am a Mac user, like Jon, so I am not very familiar with Windows programs. However, I know at least one option to look into would be the Adobe products. Adobe Premiere Pro is an advanced program that available either singly or as part of their Creative Cloud suite subscription. Adobe also has Adobe Spark Video, a more affordable option to look into. I hope that helps a little, and I hope others might chime in with other recommendations too!

    2. Yes, please what is an alternative for Windows? I would really appreciate good solid advice for a beginner!

  2. Thank you for sharing this video. My spring recital is scheduled for May 10, but live recital is not likely to happen. I have also been looking around for virtual recital options, including via a Zoom meeting, but video/audio quality is so variable, depending on each home’s internet connection. I do regularly upload my studio recitals to my youtube channel and share the links on my website, but had not considered this idea. I especially love the audience clapping soundtrack that is added to each performance. I think I will try it out! Although the COVID-19 crisis is frighteningly real with so much uncertainty still ahead of us, I am so grateful to the music community that so readily share their creative ideas.

    1. Thank you for your wonderful comment, Jennifer! Yes, I, too, love the audience clapping soundtrack that Jon added to each video. It adds a lot. 🙂 If you decide to go forward with the idea, I hope your virtual recital goes well!

  3. Thank you so much for this article and the previous article regarding switching to online lessons due to the current public health emergency. When lessons first needed to be cancelled, I felt such a loss knowing that just when my students needed me the most, I could not be with them. The idea of online lessons seemed terrifying at first, now I am actually excited!!

    While I am still holding out hope that our Recital may still be able to be held in our usual venue in late May, it is calming to have a Plan B waiting in the wings.

    1. You’re right — this is a time we can continue to play a supportive role in our students’ lives. I’m so happy to hear those two recent articles have given you some hope and excitement, Annie!

  4. Thanks for the variety of ideas! I had been planning on holding a live Zoom recital with break out rooms, but I think I’ll try this too. My biggest concern is over copyright. Do you have any helpful resources on that? My teachers performed a Facebook live recital that Facebook tried to censor (mute) because of copyright and I had to appeal it as being for educational purposes.

  5. I finally had a chance to watch this recital in its entirety and thoroughly enjoyed it! I have some ideas for my own recital and the video introductions to parents and family and friends. I also now have ideas for s few new pieces for students in the future. Thanks again, Joy!

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