Composer Peter Byrom-Smith reflects on his piano journey …
I taught myself…
The piano is one of the many instruments I taught myself to play.
Taking up the piano, alongside the church organ, gave me enough (I hoped anyway) basic keyboards skills to enable me to write some coherent solo piano music for performers, without the mistakes, errors, or just awkward piano technical problems I sometimes see in students compositions.
I also taught myself the guitar, lute, bass guitar, mandolin, all of which enabled me to either busk, play in a bar, chamber ensembles, or pit orchestras – which then brought me in income from music, whilst I continued to compose.
Also, trumpet and flute were another couple of instruments I deemed necessary to learn, so as to understand both breathing and fingering technicalities, for brass and woodwind, which I came across when rehearsing some of my very early works.
All this I enjoyed, although as a completely self taught composer, who also taught himself to read and write music, from scratch, it was sometimes both hard work and a major learning curve as deadlines would arrive!
Growing up on a council estate in northern England, writing music was something I had to do as a way of expressing my thoughts and feelings on everything, from the environment I found myself living in, to thoughts of sharing ideas, dreams, of a better world for people.
Naive – okay, yes – but my belief in music, and its greater part of the human spirit, is still there.
Sometimes slightly cynical, but still trying to show how music can help us all – suppose I’m a little bit of a tree hugger, which I’m also pretty happy to say!
I often take music into hospitals, prisons, homeless shelters, centres for mental health, hospices, all of which are just as important to me and my music as the concert hall.
The Uphill Struggle
When I left school at 15 years of age, I became totally homeless, and no idea where this journey would take me. Due my mothers mental health, and my fathers alcohol issues, I had a number of periods with foster families, but when I reached the then age of young adult, I was on my own.
Luckily, I did have a classical guitar, manuscript paper and pens – plus the clothes i stood up in – so was at least prepared to set off on the journey into the music profession.
I joined rock bands, played in theatres, busked on the streets, played with orchestras, etc, etc, all great for developing the musicality of a budding composer. Lots of ideas, sounds spinning in my head, but what to make, or indeed do with them?
Well, that brings me back to the keyboard. I was indeed very lucky that I took to the piano, etc, like a duck to water, so to speak, and found myself not only performing, but also teaching this from an early age too.
As my reputation built up, also, for a quick turnaround, for original works, arrangements, and total professional committment, commissions gradually came my way, and this is my way of life.
As I often say in interviews, I write music, because I can’t and certainly don’t know how to do anything else.
Even after all these years of travelling around the world, premieres, CD releases, etc, either a concerto, or symphonic work for orchestra, a piece for theatre, film soundtrack or working with a rock band in the studio, I am still the same young man. though – who strived for years, seeking a way to express his thoughts, spinning around in his head, and the only way to remove them, was to write them down and then share with other people.
An ordinary bloke, doing a job he totally enjoys and everday feels totally privileged to do be able to do so!