An Outsider Guide to Voice Recitals

Target Audience: Any invitee to a Syracuse voice recital.

Time/Date Attended: 8:00 pm February 17 2018

Having performed in violin recitals for most of my public school education, I was always intrigued by voice recitals. The school orchestra rarely ever performed with singers as they were quartered off with the jazz club. So when a friend asked me to go see her friend Sarah Schriner’s senior recital at Crouse Hall, the answer was obvious.

Assuming the occasion was very formal as it was for my graded violin recitals, I dressed in my best suit and tie, expecting everyone else would too.

I was completely wrong.

What to REALLY Expect

To college music students, final recitals do not determine the singer’s grade as you would expect but is rather a way for students to achieve the Performance Honors title (SUVPA, 2). It is really a social event for students to impress you with what they have learned.

Although formality isn’t heavily required for the audience, you can definitely expect it from the artist’s quality performance to her every introduction. The recital is strictly organized into 4 stages: beginning introduction to welcome attendees and teachers, the first set of three classical songs, intermission (a 15 minute dress change), the last set of three contemporary songs, and closing remarks (SUVPA, 2). Formality is so important to the Schriner that you can definitely expect her to step off and on the stage before introducing the next song and its required background performers even though they sometimes are the same performers as before!

Another attention to formality is the performer’s attire. Even though all the performers wore black, you can definitely tell the instrumental performers and the reciting artist apart. While the performers wore shirts, dress pants and shoes in an indistinctive matte black for all the songs, Schriner wore shiny silver shoes, earrings and necklace to contrast her jet black braid hair and \ pattern embroidered velvety black dress for only the classical songs. To better suit her contemporary and jazzy songs such as “The End of a Love Affair” by Edward C. Redding (1965), she wore a silky dark blue open back top, black dress pants, and shiny slim black stilettos. To invite you into mood of the music even more, Schriner even released her tied hair at the climax of the song: a true testament to performance formality.

But for the audience, you can expect the opposite.

What to Wear

While many music teachers, through their handouts, would advise you to wear from business casual or formal clothing, it is definitely not the case for college recitals (Phillips, “Recital Etiquette).

In the sparsely seated Setnor auditorium, attendees wore very casual clothing ranging from hoodies and sweatpants to sweaters and jeans. Some even wore their most comfortable pajamas. After asking my shark pajama-wearing neighbor why the dress is code is so relaxed, she explained that the recital is “a casual social performance to celebrate the singer’s last year”, not a formal academic test.

She went on explaining that music students are required to attend at least 12 recitals each year. Thus to music students, who were most of the attendees, the recital is a very common occurrence to fulfill a quota, warranting casual clothing. To blend in, you can definitely comfortable casual clothing and be able to focus on the performance instead of itchy collars or uncomfortable shoes!

How to Act

While the attendee dress code may be lax, there are a few unspoken rules that you can tell regular attendees follow strictly.

Many online handouts by music teachers such as Kristin Phillips’ “Recital Etiquette” may describe seating as random and “first come first serve”, but when you enter Crouse Hall’s glamorous wooden bracketed Setnor auditorium you can clearly see an order. Instinctively, groups of attendees distance themselves from the stage based on their relationship to the recitalist where friends and family sit closest, followed by professors, and lastly dispersed pairs of classmates who are there to fill their quota. So when picking out seats or saving seats for a friend, please consider your group’s relationship to the artist to not hurt his or her feelings!

Another unspoken rule that many music teachers repeat but never elaborate is when to stop chatting, cheering and clapping. Phillips simply suggests, “refrain from any talk, whisper, or chatter during the performances” in her list of rules, but fails to mention exactly when (Phillips, “Recital”).

Throughout the recital, you can clearly hear chatting, cheering and clapping start exactly when Schriner the recitalist stops and end suddenly when she steps on the stage as if the audience of mostly music students is trained to do so. However, they really are. During the intermission (15 minute break), my shark pajama wearing neighbor explains to me that freshman music students were scolded by TAs until they follow the rule automatically. So, to avoid glares and shushes, no noise after the singer steps on stage!

The last rule and the most important rule is to not criticize the performer in any way during the entire performance and the reception! If you do so be ready to be ignored by your neighbors for the entire event!

How to Enjoy the Music

One way to enjoy the music is to find a famous performance of it prior to the recital by locating the recital program (the list of music and its composers) on the school page and then compare that performance to the recitalist’. But to avoid breaking the last rule, you can only share your insights with yourself in this case.

“The better way” my shark pajama wearing friend told me, “is to talk about how the voice recitalist sings with the instrumental performer”. Meaning, she recommends discussing with others about how the tone, pace and pitch of the recitalist’s voice compares or reacts to the melody produced by the background instrument. For instance, I told her I really appreciated how Schriner treated the “La Vie En Rose” climax where her crescendo (an increase in loudness) is paired with the background piano’s diminuendo (a decrease in loudness and pitch) to emphasize her voice as it increases pitch and loudness.

“La Vie En Rose” performed by Edith Pilaf on Youtube

Like many recitals before hers, Shriner’s voice recital is split between classical and contemporary with mostly German composers for classical songs (Dalton, 7). J.T. Dalton, a graduate music student who wrote his thesis on college voice recitals patterns, predicted accurately the nationality of Shriner’s songs, which were pre-approved by her professor Jonathan English (SUVPA, 2).

Dalton states that for classical selections, “Austro-German composers were most prominent at 38 percent, followed by Americans at 17.6 percent” compositely from 297,888 recitals from 1880 to 1975 (7). He furthers by explaining that, “women recitalists tended to favor American contemporary works more than did the men” (53). Shriner’s list of songs perfectly follow this trend if you look at her program where two of the three classical songs are German and five of all the 8 songs are American.

In his conclusion that “dominance of the Austro-German group is borne out by the prominence of composers Schubert, Schumann”, Dalton even names Schubert, the composer of a song Schriner’s professor chose (84). By knowing this background, you can engage a conversation with not only the recitalist but also her mentor during reception!

Post Recital

When the performance ends, the social aspect of the event comes alive in the reception. After closing remarks, the recitalist will guide the audience to the reception giving you the opportunity to meet, talk, and give flowers to her.

Conversations usually start with congrats or thanks for the performance but are mainly about the recitalist’s personal life. If you don’t know the artist personally, you can talk about the performance but they are usually are in the two types mentioned previously. To me, the reception is what makes recitals so great because you get to know vocal artists from a personal basis before they become inaccessible mega stars we could barely see on stages miles away.

Word Count : 1336

Works Cited

Dalton, J. T. (1980). “An Analysis Of Programming Patterns Of Undergraduate Solo Vocal Recitals As Found In Selected Educational Institutions For The Academic Years 1964-65 Through 1974-75”. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (303028160). 23 Feb. 2018,

Phillips, Kristin. “Recital Etiquette.” Musicteachershelper, Brandon Pearce, 23 Feb. 2018,

SUVPA. Sarah Schriner Senior Voice Recital . Sarah Schriner Senior Voice Recital , SUVPA, 2018.

2 Replies to “An Outsider Guide to Voice Recitals”

  1. Hey Zhen,
    I was really surprised learning how informal the dress code is for the audience. I remember when you were in elementary school we would all dress up for your recitals.
    I like how much content you have placed in the guide, however there are three main issues with your piece. The first clearly is that you have a very weak conclusion that did not summarize the previous points. The second is the organization. I believe many of the sentences are too long and sometimes off topic which not only prevents a flow of ideas but also disconnects a description of the event and the advice given. The last issue is that some of the images counter your description (the attire photo) and there aren’t enough photos of the actual even you went to. Pictures that show Schriner’s ward robe change would be way better than that silly shark costume. Overall I think this is a good draft that needs more polishing.

  2. Hey son,
    I find Dalton’s research and its ability to predict current voice recitals very interesting and great for your historical analysis. The story of how you met a shark pajamas wearing student is hilarious and shocking to hear since we had to force you to put on a suit for your recitals and those symphonies we used to go to. I liked how you payed attention on what topics to talk about with other attendees. One of the few things you should change is how you organized the sections especially that What to REALLY Expect section. I find the entire section really hard to read as it was just information and had no advice to pair it up with. Break that section up and have only the attire info as a way to relate to the previous paragraph. This ties into the second advice which is to have beginning sentences that relates to the previous section. Lastly have shorter sentences to have more impact with each word and create a better flow of ideas. Anyway, I believe this is a great first attempt and definitely could be better.

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