Supporting Your Piano Playing Journey
Written by ANDREW EALES
For 45 years, Finchcocks – a beautiful Georgian manor house situated in Kent – was home to Richard and Katrina Burnett’s impressive collection of over 100 historical keyboard instruments (some 40 of which were fully restored), including harpsichords, clavichords, early fortepianos, square pianos, and more.
These instruments could not only be seen by visitors whenever the house was open to the general public – they could also be heard in performances there, and even played. Finchcocks was one of the few collections where visitors could avail themselves of the chance to get a feel for playing earlier repertoire on authentic instruments.
When the Burnetts retired in 2015, and the museum closed, with many of its instruments auctioned off for charity, there was naturally some sadness among aficionados of historical performance practice.
Enter new owners, by Neil and Harriet Nichols…
A New Beginning
The new owners decided to not only use Finchcocks as their family home but also as a venue for residential piano courses and retreats, keeping the musical legacy of Finchcocks alive and reinventing it for this new chapter.
They have transformed part of the historic manor to offer world-class piano tuition for adults. Not only so, but the adjacent Grade II Listed Coach House has been converted into boutique ‘Soho House’ style hotel accommodation for the guests of the piano school.
To create the space for the piano school, the new owners have transformed the cellar into a cavernous recital room surrounded by vaulted practice rooms, each containing a grand piano.
Commenting on the new venture, owner and entrepreneur, Neil Nichols, said:
“The newly launched piano courses at Finchcocks are designed to inspire. Courses include workshop sessions that demonstrate new techniques, masterclass sessions that focus on performance and an evening recital that showcases a particular composer or musical genre.”
In between classes, guests will be able to practice on one of the nine grand pianos in the 18th century vaulted brick cellars at Finchcocks, before enjoying dinner cooked by a private chef.
Interestingly, Neil Nichols visited the famous Finchcocks Piano Museum 25 years ago on a school trip. When he saw the property on the market last year, he was keen to find a way to continue the musical legacy at Finchcocks:
“It’s fantastic to be able to continue the musical legacy at Finchcocks – albeit in a more modest scale than before. A lot of people learn the piano growing up, but barely touch a piano as an adult. We hope that our weekend courses will re-inspire lapsed pianists and help them rediscover their love of the piano.”
Previous owners, Katrina Burnett, commented on the new venture:
“Richard and I are so pleased that Neil and Harriet have bought Finchcocks, and we’re delighted that they’ve found a way to continue the musical tradition at Finchcocks. Meanwhile, 14 of the instruments from the original Finchcocks collection now form part of the Richard Burnett Heritage Collection which are housed in a new purpose-built musical faculty in Tunbridge Wells.”
Finchcocks will be offering courses for beginners, intermediate and advanced students. Courses are limited in availability, with only eight students at a time and one course per month.
Having set up the programme, the next step was to consider whether piano teachers might also look to Finchcocks for additional training courses…
The Piano Teacher Survey
Finchcocks commissioned a survey of 389 piano teachers to get an insight into the key challenges piano teachers face. The survey revealed four key findings:
1: Over a third of piano teachers undertake no formal professional development.
Interestingly, Finchcocks’ survey revealed that over a third of piano teachers – 37% – do not undertake any formal professional development.
For most teachers, this was not because they had no interest in developing their skills – in fact the vast majority (90%) said they wanted more training – but it was because of the paucity of courses available for teachers.
Indeed 25% of piano teachers surveyed rated the provision of teaching resources available to piano teachers as “poor” or “very poor”.
2: Motivation, practice and rhythm are key teaching challenges
- An almost unanimous 94% of piano teachers surveyed stated that they’d like to develop techniques for better motivating their students;
- 9 out of 10 teachers stated that they’d like to develop methods of instilling better practice techniques in their students;
- and 89% of teachers admitted that teaching students to play rhythmically was a key challenge.
When it came to areas for their own personal improvement, memorisation and improvisation were the hottest topics, with more than half of the respondents saying that these were areas they would like to further develop.
3. ABRSM dominates as an exam board
Finchcocks’ survey revealed that piano teachers would like to develop their skills in regards to preparing their students for exams, as well as their day-to-day teaching skills.
Teaching sight-reading and aural skills were the areas where teachers were most interested in developing their exam-related teaching skills, with an overwhelming majority (90%) of teachers agreeing that they would like more training on these subjects.
When it came to the choice of exam boards, ABRSM clearly dominates, with 67% of teachers entering their students for these exams. Trinity came second with just over 10% of candidates, with the LCM attracting just 5% of participants.
4: Most of piano teachers do so on a part-time basis
Interestingly, most teachers who took part in Finchcocks’ survey teach between 10 and 20 students on a weekly basis, but a hard-core of 9% reported teaching more than 50 pupils per week.
Only 2% teachers specialised in teaching adults, with 23% exclusively engaged in piano lessons for children.
Finchcocks Piano Teacher Courses
Commenting on the survey results, Neil Nichols said:
“Our survey has revealed that piano teachers – both part-time and full-time – are interested in professional development, but current teaching resources and courses are relatively limited. That’s why we have decided to launch a series of workshops and courses aimed specifically at piano teachers, covering the topics and issues they have told us they are keen to develop. ”
Finchcocks is launching the first of its one-day workshops designed specifically for piano teachers on Thursday 25th October 2018, titled “Helping your students achieve their full potential in exams”.
Masterclass sessions will be run on the new grade 5 and grade 8 repertoire, together with a detailed explanation of the framework used by examiners when assessing pieces. It will be followed by a session where teachers will get the chance to make their own assessment of a real performance of the new repertoire in a mock ABRSM exam led by Nigel Scaife, a former ABRSM examiner.
There will also be specific technique sessions on how best to teach aural and sight-reading led by David Hall, a former organ scholar, choir master and Director of Music at Twyford School.
And this is just the beginning. A week-long residential course for teachers in also scheduled in the summer holidays next year with acclaimed teachers Graham Fitch and Penelope Roskell.
It’s certainly great to see Finchcocks reborn – and in these capable new hands we must hope that it will thrive as a fabulous venue, making a significant mark on the UK piano scene in the coming years.
For more information and details of all forthcoming courses visit the Finchcocks website here.
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