Sonata Sonatina Celebration

Last Updated on 2024-02-26 | Originally Posted on 2019-10-02
This is a past event for 2023. However, since this festival is typically held during the second weekend of November, dates will be similar in 2024.

Festival Date: Saturday, November 11, 2023

Festival Summary

This festival centers on performing sonatas and sonatinas in a public setting where other students, their families, and teachers are in the audience. I provide a more detailed description of each festival in my page Piano Festivals, including the pros and cons of each festival.

Key Dates for 2023

  • Preparation Begins: Mid-August
  • Decision Week: October 9-13 (The official deadline is later)
  • Halloween Piano Party: Saturday, October 28
  • Warm-Up Recitals: Sunday, November 5
  • Festival at NWACC in Bentonville: Saturday, November 11

Start Preparation

Participating in festivals like the Sonata Sonatina Celebration can be a rewarding part of piano lessons. However, festivals should not become all-consuming for months at a time, even though typically there will be a several-week period of intense, almost exclusive focus on the festival piece(s).

Decision Week

Your sonatina should be fully learned and on the way to memorization by this week of lessons. Even though the application isn’t due until the end of the following week, this is a good reckoning cut-off for determining whether or not to go forward.

Halloween Piano Party

Even though this studio event caters to all students of all ages, it began as an event for students to try out their sonatas and sonatinas. Even with the addition of a costume contest and other fun games, playing festival pieces is still an important part of the event. If you don’t have a studio event, gather your friends and family in your living room to try out your piece. Do this at least a couple of weeks before the festival to figure out how much more work you have to do.

Warm-Up Recitals

These are organized just for festival participants. They are group recitals for students of multiple teachers held in both the north and south of our region. All performers must perform from memory, which makes this milestone a great test of festival readiness.

Please note: If you don’t do a festival pre-recital, you should plan your own warm-up event. It should be somewhere that has a grand piano. If you don’t have one, you will find these at a church, school, library, or perhaps a neighbor’s home. Professional musicians organize warm-up recitals before their big events; you should do the same!

Festival Day

Bring Your Score

Please bring your score; that’s the only way your judge can evaluate your performance. Make sure the measures are numbered so the judge can give you specific comments. Erase anything from the score except fingerings and essential markings that guide your performance. Non-essential markings would include practice zones, comments from your teacher, big circles or brackets showing problem areas. Don’t give away your potential problem areas in your score; let your judge have a clean look!

Dress for Success

Adhere to the clothing guidelines for the festival, which simply put, advises against casual clothing items like t-shirts, jeans, shorts, and white sneakers. If you don’t have comfortable shoes but do have all-black sneakers, that’s acceptable. Dress comfortably. Don’t wear your finest outfit unless that makes you comfortable and confident. Finally, if you wear a dress/skirt, keep it on the long side since you will be visible from many angles.

Arrive to Thrive

Make sure to arrive at least 30 minutes before your scheduled start time if you want to warm up on a practice piano. There could be a line. Even if you choose to warm up at home instead, arrive in plenty of time to get to your performance space. Be calm and awake. Don’t nap on your way to the festival.

When It’s Your Turn

You will be given about 30 seconds to try out the festival piano when it is your turn to play. You typically won’t bow at the this point, but may choose to do so if you receive some applause. Before you start your warm-up routine, make sure you’re seated correctly.

For bench height, you should be able to roll the adjustment wheels forwards (clockwise) to go down, and backwards (counter-clockwise) to go up. However, if the bench is reversed, you’ll have to do the opposite. Also, make sure you’re sitting the correct distance from the keyboard.

Warm-up Ideas

Design a warm-up based on your piece that will quickly help you assess the instrument you are playing. A short routine should be enough to assess basic things about the instrument. However, don’t play too much of your piece, because that lessens its impact when you do begin. If you are curious how a key section will sound, try to just play a couple of measures to preserve the mystery.

Beginner Warm-up: Play a 5-finger pattern or scale slowly in the key of your piece. Follow that with a couple of chords, broken or solid. If you use the pedal in your piece, try some chords with the damper pedal. Locate your starting place of each hand on the piano so that you’re ready when the judge lets you being.

Intermediate to Advanced Warm-up: In addition to above, test the balance between the treble and bass using simple chords or an improvised melody high in the treble against some bass notes or chords. Play a long major or chromatic scale to learn about the voicing if it’s important to you. Focus on the piano’s action, treble vs bass balance, and how you want to scale your dynamics to the room, within reason. Don’t overplay on small or dead piano in a dead room.

Room Acoustics

You will be assigned to either the acoustically dry auditorium or the resonant upstairs choir room, which are each furnished with a small Kawai grand. Make sure to figure out your loud and soft playing. As already mentioned above, don’t overcompensate by forcing the sound if you get assigned the auditorium.

Ready to Go

Indicate to the judge that you are ready to play, verbally or with eye contact and a head nod. Let the judge invite you to begin, and pause at the end of the movement. While paused, make sure to stay focused on the next movement and where to place your hands when asked to continue. Don’t allow your mind to drift. The judge will tell you when to continue.


Make sure to bow after you finish playing. Show respect to your audience no matter how well or badly you think you played.

How to Bow

A simple bow, courtesy of YouTube, works great. Emulate the singer at the right, with his hands at his sides.

After Your Performance

You’ve done everything you can do. The judging results are out of your hands at this point. You may get the result you expected, but you also may not. It’s one judge’s opinion on your playing at one moment. Enjoy the process and not focus too heavily on the result. Make sure to read and understand the judge’s comments; you might learn new things about your playing from a different person’s perspective.

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