In addition to the embarrassment of riches already on offer at the Chetham’s International Summer School and Festival for Pianists (read all about it in my review here), organisers Kathryn Page and Murray McLachlan last year added a Piano Teacher Course to the menu.
Led in its first year by Margaret Murray McLeod, the course attracted some 35 teachers from around the world. This year Karen Marshall and Mark Tanner took the reins, and the organisers plan to involve different course leaders each year so that returning attendees can learn from a range of perspectives.
In the UK we have a rapidly growing number of well-regarded piano teacher training opportunities and courses (though sadly not a widely supported and accredited qualification), and the choice can be bewildering.
The availability of a credible training course with the benefits of a residential (rather than remote online) setting, held at such an ideal time in the calendar, and with such an impressive roster of world-class concert pianists on tap is certainly very appealing.
Could this be an obvious first choice for teachers looking for further training? As part of my visit to the Summer School, I was able to join the course for several sessions. Here’s what I found out…
A Great Team
Useful though academic insights can be, I am occasionally perplexed to see consultant-types offering piano teacher training who, to put it bluntly, have less practical teaching experience than some of those buying into their services. No such reservations in this instance.
Course leaders Karen Marshall and Mark Tanner between them brought to Chetham’s a considerable depth of professional performing and teaching experience and expertise. They made a formidable team and are unquestionably the “real deal”.
Karen for her part has the deep pedagogic understanding that can only come from many years working both in schools and with a thriving private practice. An expert in supporting children with learning difficulties (she is herself dyslexic), Karen will be known to many as co-author of the Get Set! Piano books and Faber Music’s Piano Trainer Series. And, importantly, she continues to teach dozens of students of all abilities each week, and with considerable success.
Mark, meanwhile, has enjoyed international success as a concert pianist, composer, teacher, adjudicator and writer. A diploma examiner and moderator, who has also been a piano judge for the BBC Young Musician of the Year, Mark is a leading authority with a huge knowledge of the whole piano teaching and concert repertoire.
It’s particularly revealing that despite such a significant range of knowledge and experience, Karen and Mark brought in an impressive panoply of additional talent, capitalising on the availability of global expertise on hand at the Chetham’s Summer School.
Kicking things off each and every day, Murray McLachlan, concert pianist and recording artist, Head of Piano at Chetham’s Music School, and Chair of EPTA delivered a regular session explaining the nuts and bolts of piano technique.
And throughout the week, delegates benefitted from input from Emma Dixon (Dalcroze), John LeGrove (Kodály), Philip Fowke And Benjamin Frith (practice), Les Chisnall (“lighter styles”), James Crow (Alexander Technique), Sarah Murphy (theory), Gavin Wayte (composing), Hazel Fanning (sight reading), Joseph Banowetz (memorisation), Peter Lawson (playing with flair), and Peter Donohoe (playing with confidence).
Goodness! I can’t think of another course offering such an esteemed raft of speakers and workshop leaders.
You’ll have spotted, too, the enormous range of subjects covered…
A Full Programme
Each day the Teacher Course ran from 8.30 in the morning until around 5.00pm, after which delegates could freely attend at least three world-class professional recitals each evening in the adjoining Stoller Hall, given by some of our most successful concert performers.
I have written extensively about these recitals in my companion review of the Chetham’s International Summer School, and I cannot overstate the immense value that this musical content adds to the Teacher Course.
In all then, the cost of the course offers solid value, with an intensive and varied programme running from 8.30am until 11.00pm each day. As with the Summer School, the only danger is perhaps that such an intensive piano binge could prove overwhelming for some.
The teaching course this year included a range of several back-to-back 30-minute sessions, with a longer 90-minute session in the mornings going more in-depth. Led by Karen Marshall, these longer sessions covered:
- Teaching beginners: exploring a ‘no one method’ approach
- Professional practice, psychological considerations, motivation, boundaries
- Creating a curriculum, planning, assessment and evaluation
- Simultaneous learning unwrapped
- Accessible teaching: top tactics for dyslexics and other learning difficulties
The shorter sessions covered a fairly comprehensive gamut of nitty-gritty teaching strategies and issues, and included Mark Tanner’s overview of the main historical periods and key repertoire.
In addition to all of these sessions, and including all the guest presentations mentioned already, delegates were timetabled to spend an hour each afternoon observing any lesson/teacher of their choice from the Summer School itself.
Once again, this opportunity to sit in on and learn from a faculty of the world’s most revered pedagogues is a special benefit of this Teaching Course which is surely priceless in value.
As one of the delegates commented to me at the end of the course,
“It was a fantastic course, very well crafted, with a broad range of topics but enough depth to be valuable and stimulate further research.”
Ali Fyffe, teacher delegate
Underpinning the whole philosophy and organisation of the course, delegates were invited to develop a reflective practice, and plenty of time was allocated for discussion both within the group and one-to-one with the course leaders.
The pastoral element of the course deserves a special mention. Both Karen and Mark have warm, approachable personalities, and it is only natural that on such a hot-house residential course this personal empathy was much welcomed by all who attended.
Applying the principles of reflection to my own observations as a visitor, it seems to me that while the fundamentals of pedagogy (both in theory and practice) can’t possibly be conveyed fully on a six-day course, Karen and Mark made a fantastic stab at it, delivering a course brimming over with great content that touched on most of the major elements of practical piano teaching,
The idea of using a different course leader each year is an interesting one; we must wait to see how this develops before assessing the value of coming more than once. Different perspectives are immensely valuable, but I very much liked the flavour Karen and Mark brought. And it particularly worked well having two principal tutors rather than one, as they were so complimentary in their different professional backgrounds and expertise.
I would perhaps have placed a more central focus on the importance of “sound before symbol” in all musical learning, demonstrating its applications for both beginners and more advanced students alike.
Including more demonstration lessons with reflective observation and feedback would also be useful, but there’s only time for so much!
Lastly, it would be wonderful to have offered all delegates their own one-to-one lesson with a member of the Summer School faculty as a standard included feature of the course. It seems to me that who we are as musicians is so absolutely central to our teaching.
Chetham’s International Summer School and Festival for Pianists is a huge event with a buzzing positive atmosphere.
The addition of a Piano Teacher Course is not simply a smart move, it’s a groundbreaking step which offers an opportunity to access pedagogy training in a practical professional music setting.
As such, I am bound to conclude that though not cheap, the course offers a very worthwhile investment, and one that could have a big impact both for those attending and in terms of how professional training is delivered.
If you are a teacher wanting to invest in your career, look out for next year’s course. It will undoubtedly be different to this year’s (that’s part of the point!) but so long as the organisers evaluate and continue to build on the central strengths of the course, there’s a good chance it will be every bit as great!
In the meantime, congratulations to all involved in planning and delivering this year’s course; it was outstanding!