Arvo Pärt at 80

“I have discovered that it is enough if a single note is played beautifully. This single note, the sense of peace or silence have a calming effect on me.”

So says Arvo Pärt, the Estonian composer born 80 years ago on 11th September 1935.

Pärt has become one of the world’s most recorded and best loved composers, his works bringing calm reflection, and touching audiences around the world.

Here is his piece Tabula Rasa, one of the first of his compositions that I encountered as a music student many years ago, which remains a favourite (Part 2 also follows below, and is very special) :

The timeless and inclusive spirituality of Pärt’s music acts as an antidote to the pressures and stress of life in the modern age. The composer explains:

“The more we are thrown into chaos, the more we have to hold onto order. This is the only thing that helps us to restore our sense of balance, even if only a little, and allows us to see things in perspective and to be aware of the value of these things.
The greater the sense of order and the greater our ability to stand back and feel the wing-beat of time, the more powerful will be the impact of the work of art.”

Reflecting on his process as a composer, Pärt says:

“My music was always written after I had been silent in the most literal sense of the word. When I speak of silence, I mean the nothingness out of which God created the world. That is why, ideally, musical silence is sacred. Silence is not simply given to us, but in order that we may draw sustenance from it. This sustenance is no less valuable to me than the air I breathe.

“If you approach silence with love, music may result.”

Pärt’s music brings an eternity that will stay with us. Long may he stay among us too, gracing our lives with his beautiful music.

Happy 80th Birthday to Arvo Pärt.

Lucinda Mackworth-Young: “Piano by Ear”

Sheet Music Review

Lucinda Mackworth-Young’s new book “Piano by Ear” fills a massive gap in the market. Here’s my review :

Quite simply this is the book that I, and no doubt many other thousands of pianists and teachers, have been waiting for. For years!

I even considered writing something like it myself at one point, back at the time my own Keyquest books for electronic keyboard were just out. But thank goodness – Lucinda Mackworth-Young has saved us all the effort, and has certainly done a great job of it!

Continue reading Lucinda Mackworth-Young: “Piano by Ear”

Recovery from Abuse: Interview with Fiona Whelpton

The relationship between music teachers and their students is a particularly important one. At best it can nurture young people’s development both as a person and bring out the best of their talents as a musician. But what happens when boundaries are crossed and rules get broken?

Continue reading Recovery from Abuse: Interview with Fiona Whelpton

Feeling Impatient?

The Fermata Series

One thing is certain – everything changes. But sometimes things can take longer than we hoped for, in stark contrast to the general pace of our lives today. Is it any wonder that we often feel impatient?

Perhaps there are obstacles that won’t shift from your pathway. Wounds that won’t heal…

… or simply a favourite piece of music that you would love to be able to play on the piano, but which somehow seems far out of your reach.

As qigong master Kam Chuen Lam explains, some things simply take time – and are all the better for it!

“All authentic growth takes time. So does healing and the process of deep strengthening. It is like giving birth.

In the more than thirty years that I have been teaching and treating people in the West, I have always had to tell people that nature takes time to form, nourish and give birth to new life.

I tell my students, ‘You can’t make a plant grow by tugging on it every day. You simply put it in good soil, give it just enough water and light, and let it grow. If you do that it will grow naturally. That is its nature’.”

Master Kam Chuen Lam
The Qigong Workbook for Anxiety

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Cognitive benefits of being a musician

As guest author Kevin Pearson explains, learning to play an instrument is believed to make a significant difference to the player’s brain.

Musicians are truly special in the sense that they need skills that few others do. Because musicians need acute hearing, well-developed senses of pitch, rhythm, dynamics and timing as well as great control of small and large muscles that non-musicians rarely use (“small-muscle athletes” as Frank Wilson described it in his book Tone Deaf and All Thumbs) musicians develop neurological and morphological changes that can be beneficial not only when playing their instrument or listening to music, but also in other aspects of everyday life.

Continue reading Cognitive benefits of being a musician

The Quiet Fields

The Fermata Series

The writer Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927) gave us these much treasured words:

“Come away from the din.
Come away to the quiet fields,
over which the great sky stretches,
and where, between us and the stars,
there lies but silence;
and there, in the stillness
let us listen to the voice
that is speaking within us.”

Whether speaking of the Divine, or perhaps our inner creative inspiration, these words represent a powerful call which we should and surely must heed on a regular basis.

For the school child, the busy professional or the highly active senior, the “Quiet Fields” could mean time spent at the piano.

For those of us whose work involves performing on or teaching the piano, the “Quiet Fields” are necessarily elsewhere.

But for all of us the imperative applies: we need time away from the daily grind to listen and to renew.

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“The Creative Pianist”: Interview with Mark Polishook

Interview by Guest Writer, Simon Reich

I have always thought that to be a well-regarded teacher in a particular area, you need to know the subject inside and out and be a proficient exponent of the subject and Mark Polishook is definitely one of those.

Continue reading “The Creative Pianist”: Interview with Mark Polishook

Enjoy a long, healthy life!

The Fermata Series

An ancient Daoist text “Principles of Nourishing Life and Cultivating Longevity”  (recently translated by Eva Wong and included in within her book “Being Taoist“)  includes the following simple advice:

“When you are young, don’t spend a lot of energy doing what everyone thinks is appropriate.
When you’ve reached maturity, don’t be too competitive.
When you’ve passed middle age, you should begin to find contentment.
When you are old, you should minimise desires.
Exercise the body gently to prevent it from stiffening, and entertain your mind leisurely to prevent it from deteriorating.
In this way you will enjoy a healthy and long life.”

There is of course no quick fix solution to avoid death, no elixir of life to sustain us indefinitely, and we know that once our energy is gone, the end will come.

But perhaps the above advice is useful when thinking about our own approach and lifestyle. We could all do with questioning what steps we are taking to enjoy a healthier and longer life.

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Finding your own way…

The Fermata Series

Concert pianist and writer Charles Rosen (1927-2012) offers some interesting advice in his book “Piano Notes

Do you agree with his conclusions?

“…  any dogmatic system of teaching technique is pernicious. Most pianists, in fact, have to work to some extent in late adolescence to undo the effects of their early instruction and find an idiosyncratic method that suits them personally.

Not only the individual shape of the hand counts but even the whole corporal shape. That is why there is no optimum position for sitting at the piano, in spite of what many pedagogues think.”

Charles Rosen

Piano Notes – The Hidden World of the Pianist (2002)

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Why Lucas Debargue should be allowed to develop as an artist.

I am delighted to publish a guest post from Frances Wilson, who blogs as The Cross-Eyed Pianist

Much has been written about the young French pianist Lucas Debargue, a finalist in the 2015 edition of the prestigious International Tchaikovsky Competition. The concept of him being “self-taught” (until relatively recently) has been debated across a number of articles, together with his rather unusual technique (“Scales played with only the thumb and index finger and his pinkie sticking up as daintily as Hyacinth Bucket’s” – The Spectator, 18/7/15) and glorious sound. He’s not out of the traditional mold of the international competition winner (commences piano studies at a young age, undertakes rigorous study with a master teacher and progresses to the “Three C’s” of Conservatoire, Competition and Concerto) – and he didn’t even wear a tie during the final!

Continue reading Why Lucas Debargue should be allowed to develop as an artist.