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Diploma Presentation Skills – Stagecraft

This blog post is for people thinking about taking a Trinity College London recital diploma. The skill gap between grade 8 and Diploma is a big one to fill. Reference to current criteria will tell you that ATCL (Performance) should be of a similar standard to end of first year recital at a university or conservatoire.

In terms of technique and musicality this will be a long journey but there is another area to embrace which can be addressed straightaway. A key area for a performance diploma is presentation skills.

In ATCL and LTCL, presentation skills covers five separate areas:

•PROGRAMME CHOICE – balance and order
•PRESENTATION of programme notes

In this post, we’ll be looking more closely at how to prepare for the stagecraft element of your exam.

What is stagecraft? This is an umbrella term covering all the things a performer does in appearance, attitude and acknowledgement when presenting her/his work to others.

Have you attended a lunchtime recital or concert?
•How were the performers dressed?
•Did you feel compelled to watch and listen to them?
•Were you comfortable in their presence?

Or …

•Did you feel awkward?
•Was their body language distracting?
•Was your enjoyment of the music compromised?

It is quite extraordinary how these elements affect performance both for the performers and the audience.

Let’s take APPEARANCE. How we dress says a lot about us and we can use clothes to make different statements in everyday life. The same thing happens when you walk on stage – the only difference is, all eyes are on you! So, you want to feel both comfortable and special.

Comfortable allows instruments to be played with ease of movement and, for singers as well, without fidgeting or adjusting straps or belts or necklines or cuffs.

Special is how you should feel when performing and if you have made an extra effort to look your best, this is often reflected in what we’ll consider next – attitude.

ATTITUDE is a multi-faceted word. It has a place in relation to before, during and after your Diploma performance:

•How you approach preparation for the Diploma;
•Interaction with others both on stage and in the audience;
•How you reflect upon your Diploma experience.

Here, we’re really thinking about the second of these.

Body language is crucial. Imagine someone walking on stage eyes down, head bent and gait tentative – what message does this send to an audience? Already they think this performer is unsure and apologetic and possibly not up to the job. Now compare that with someone who walks confidently onto stage with their head held high and their eyes bright and engaging. Is the audience now expecting a different experience?

Communication through body language remains paramount during performance: between performers; and between performer(s) and audience. Messages are continuously sent reflecting engagement with the music and the performance: the arching of a bow to initiate a phrase; the circling of an oboe to conclude a movement; a singer assuming a posture of readiness. Without these messages performance would have to rely on telepathy or chance.

If the other performers are aware of these signs, so is the audience. As the centre of attention, your every movement is on display and should be considered. The appearance of confidence, whether an illusion or not, should be your goal throughout the recital. Badly executed page turns, constant flicking of hair, toe-tapping serve only to compromise what could have been a technically proficient performance.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT is another area reliant on body language. In a large auditorium it is customary for performers to bow to their audience both at the beginning and end of a recital.


At the outset, a bow says, “Thank you for welcoming me to the stage and I hope to present you with a rewarding experience”; and, at the conclusion, “Thank you for listening and I hope you enjoyed the recital.”

•Bows which are half-hearted serve no purpose other than to look awkward.
•Bows which are over-dramatic rather trivialise the performance.
•Bows executed with sincerity in their intent deliver the messages above.

Sometimes, however, Diploma recitals take place in venues which are intimate. Perhaps ‘bowing’ does not feel appropriate: a measured nod of the head, genuinely meant, is perfectly sufficient to convey the necessary sentiments.

If in doubt about anything to do with Stagecraft, it is always a good idea to ‘be your own audience’. Imagine looking at how you appear both when you are playing or singing and when you are not. Do you like what you see?

To find out more about Trinity’s recital diploma click here.

Blog post written by: Helen Templeton, diploma examiner for Trinity College London

(Photo credit: Zute Lightfoot 2015)

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