Under pink and purple spotlights at Victor E. Clarke Recital Hall, senior Mateja Kalajian sports her violin and a floor-length fuchsia dress.
Kalajian concludes a section of a concerto by 18th century composer Joseph Haydn and draws the violin bow to her side. She looks out at her audience as the pianist accompanying her takes over.
“I had just finished this big run and the piano was taking over for a while, and I remember just smiling because I nailed it,” she said after her recital.
While other seniors might spend their final year of college writing a thesis or conducting a research project, student performers in the Frost School of Music round out their time at the University of Miami with a senior recital.
“It’s a great opportunity to show why you came here and all the work that you put into the four years,” Kalajian said.
Performance majors in the Frost School must hold a duo recital during their junior year, but senior recital is their first (and last) opportunity to put on a full program by themselves.
“That gives you a taste of the piece of the spotlight,” senior Becky Taylor said.
Step one is choosing the musical repertoire. Cello professor Ross Harbaugh said that the seniors often perform a well-balanced repertoire from different musical periods, which shows the Frost faculty all that they’ve learned as undergraduates.
“It’s a demonstration of command of several styles,” he said.
While some pieces must be learned from scratch, other times seniors have the chance to perfect a work they’ve performed before.
Taylor, a flute performance major, included a quintet piece in her senior recital, which she first worked on her sophomore year.
“We got the parts that we remembered to be so hard, to be in tune … That was really satisfying to revisit and to see how much we improved as individuals and as a group,” she said.
Once they’ve learned to play the music, the students can begin to figure out how to make it truly sound the way they want it to.
“You can actually deal with other things – how you want it to sound [and] what you want to say through the music,” Taylor said.
Senior Gabriella Hirsch, whose piano recital was last Thursday, said memorizing the music and leading rehearsals were her biggest challenges.
“You have to lead your own rehearsals, direct other students,” Hirsch said. “I’d never really done that before.”
As if a solo recital doesn’t make senior year busy enough, many students in the Frost School must also balance recital prep with traveling the country for graduate program auditions.
“By the time I finished with my auditions and other commitments, I only had maybe a little over a month to pull [the recital repertoire] together,” Kalajian said.
Kalaijan, who spends nearly 15 hours a week rehearsing with her violin, woke up at 9 a.m. every day during spring break to practice for her recital. She knew this level of dedication was necessary to perfect the six pieces she would be performing.
“When you’re doing that much, sometimes details can get thrown out the window,” Kalaijan said. “… By the time I got on stage for my recital, I was just having fun and I wasn’t so nervous or worried.”
Hirsch, a music education and piano performance double major, said that she started exercising more often and eating better in preparation for her recital. To her, it was a form of mind and body training that would help her combat any nerves and remain aware of her own performance.
“If your nerves are controlling you, you can’t play emotionally and expressively,” she said.
During a rehearsal the week before her performance, Hirsch had played her pieces really well, and she wondered if she’d be able to do that again.
“My professor basically admitted that, when I chose my repertoire, he didn’t think I’d be able to pull it off, and he ended up telling me, ‘You proved me wrong,’” she said.
Kalajian, a violin performance major, explained that there’s a lot more that goes into the recital than just the repertoire itself.
Frost students typically begin planning the recital the second semester of their junior year. They tackle all of the logistics – from reserving a date and location to attracting an audience.
“It’s always kind of scary to get enough people to come,” Kalajian said.
Kalajian’s fears, however, proved unwarranted. In addition to friends and family, locals who find out about Frost performances on the school’s website were part of the large turnout.
“I had strangers come up to me and say how great it was,” she said.
It’s common to invite friends through Facebook events while the walls of Frost School buildings become plastered in posters. Hirsch said there was also another way her friends already knew about her senior recital.
“My friends have been hearing me stress about it since last semester,” she said.
For friends and family members who can’t make the performance, Frost also offers a live stream of Clarke Recital Hall and Gusman Concert Hall.
While preparing for her recital, Kalajian learned more about time management and picking up new music quickly.
“You have to really work at it and be relentless,” she said.
Kalajian thinks her senior recital helped prepare her for working in a professional orchestra, where instrumentalists often must learn new music in just two or three rehearsals, she said.
Hirsch, who plans to teach music and accompany soloists or ensembles, said the performance experience will help her when she’s teaching students.
“I made a lot of improvements in my own technical playing and playing abilities,” she said.
Taylor said she would’ve also liked the opportunity for constructive feedback on her performance from her advising professor.
“It’s so final that it’s not really appropriate to give that sort of criticism. … It’s more like a celebration or coming-of-age ceremony than something to be judged,” she said.
For a list of the remaining undergraduate recitals, visit miami.edu/frost/index.php/frost/frost_events/?cat=2225&nam=Undergraduate%20Recitals.