If you need an easy but unique performance idea, consider taking your students to a local coffee shop! We recently did this during the holiday season and called it “Coffee and Keys.”
The evening featured holiday, jazz, and classical music in an informal, public venue, which gave our students the chance to play a “real gig.” We even set out a tip jar. Each student took away around $20 at end of the night and, not surprisingly, this was a big hit!
We performed piano, violin, and vocal repertoire, which created a really well-rounded set.
Students and parents told us that this event was a winner. The relaxed environment allowed people to chat, play board games, and move around.
You'll notice in the video that everyone appears pretty serious. After the first few performances, we had to make an announcement that people could talk and play games. You may have to give your audience permission to get out of "recital mode!"
We were having so much fun by the end of the evening! Conversations continued long after the last performance ended. It was a special night where we got to connect with our students and their families.
Finding the Venue
One doesn’t usually think about booking concerts at the doctor’s office, but that’s how this story goes. A simple conversation with a nurse about what I do as a piano teacher led to our studio getting invited to play at a local coffee shop that doubles as a church on Sundays.
As a result, the space also had a grand piano. It was the perfect setup, and it didn’t cost us anything!
With a little networking and self-promotion, you never know what opportunities might come your way.
Coffee and Keys was one of our easiest events to plan. Most of our preparation involved marketing and building interest with students and parents. We created an event poster using a website called canva.com and put it up in our studios. We also posted our marketing materials to social media and sent them out via email.
We also created a program order in advance with timings of pieces so that we had a rough guide to follow. This allowed students to have a general idea of when they would be playing and ensured that our performance time did not go too long.
As I mentioned earlier, there was already a great piano at the venue, so setup was a breeze. I recruited my brother to do photography, and we had two video cameras from different angles so that we could capture not only the performances but the fun atmosphere.
Benefits of Public Performance vs. Recital
We’ve found that “gig” performances often seem to motivate students to practice more than traditional recitals, and we’ve had more requests to repeat these types of events.
There is something significant about playing for people other than your family and friends in an environment that feels less controlled. In these situations, students are no longer just playing music for educational purposes but have the opportunity to practice entertaining complete strangers.
These are valuable experiences I’d like for my students to have. After all, it takes a greater amount of confidence, showmanship, and ability to cope with distractions in order to pull off this kind of performance. Ultimately, these are the types of skills that professional musicians must master. Why not start now?
At the same time, we’ve also found that some students feel less pressured by informal public performances. Rather than having all attention focused on the performer, the goal of Coffee and Keys was to provide pleasant background music.
All of this was being enjoyed while people chatted, played board games, and enjoyed warm drinks. Students felt like they were adding to the atmosphere rather than being the center of it.
Coffee and Keys Round Up
Coffee and Keys might be the perfect way to get your students out of the studio and into your community.
You can definitely tailor the event to fit your studio. Most coffee shops don’t have a grand piano sitting around, but you could definitely bring a good keyboard. Maybe you’d like to focus on duet playing or collaborate with other instrumentalists/vocalists. There are many possibilities!
Be sure to create a buzz about your event with social media or posters, and communicate well with people about the benefits and why it's going to be so much fun!