Guest Post by Joanna García
Joanna originally shared these thoughts on her Facebook studio page. I am delighted that she has allowed me to reproduce them here for the encouragement of Pianodao readers…
Guest Post written by Philip Fowke
I am delighted to include this incredibly helpful post from the internationally acclaimed concert pianist, recording artist and teacher Philip Fowke.
I had the pleasure of working alongside Philip on the faculty of the Thinking Pianist course, where he shared this very wise advice, and am delighted that he has agreed to make it public via the Pianodao website. There is so much here to take in, and of such lasting value.
Before Philip’s article, let’s remind ourselves of his stunning musicianship, recorded here at the BBC Proms performing that beloved masterpiece, Warsaw Concerto by Richard Addinsell:
Continue reading Thoughts on the Art of Practice
I was saddened to hear news of the recent passing of the beloved pianist, teacher, educator, writer, and composer MARGARET MURRAY McLEOD (1936-2021).
In this moving appreciation, guest writer MURRAY McLACHLAN pays tribute to one who made such a wonderful difference in the lives and music-making of many…
Margaret was an extraordinary, talented person in so many ways. She was driven by the desire to give. Her contributions to society, pupils, colleagues, organisations, and family are immense and serve as a model for all of us, even though there are few if any of us who could begin to match Margaret in terms of what she achieved.
She was an immensely talented individual, a beautiful person who touched so many of us through her tremendous warmth, loyalty, energy, and devotion. Her beauty is evident in many touching photographs from different periods of her life…. But the real beauty in Margaret was so much more than her physical attractiveness, considerable though that was.
She cared with beauty. Her pupils’ development mattered deeply to her. Margaret cared so much for Napier (where she was a remarkable head of keyboard), for ABRSM (for whom she did countless national and international tours as well as articles, presentations and books), for EPTA and EPTA Scotland in particular (regional organiser, EPTA UK Management Committee Member), for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (for whom she played harpsichord and Piano), and for the Royal Academy of Music (where she graduated from after a hugely successful studentship in which she won the coveted Scott Huxley Prize for accompaniment).
She was a vibrant speaker. She wrote enthusiastic reviews and teaching notes. She was passionate about training new teachers. The burning desire she felt to help new teachers resulted in an extraordinary annual summer course at Napier which ran for many years, and which was hugely successful in helping to support and encourage new generations of musicians to become piano teachers. Margaret’s piano teachers’ course remains the flagship model of its kind, and it remains by far the most successful piano teaching course ever to have been held in the United Kingdom.
But all the above is but a superficial beginning… Margaret was so much more than that. She never retired; she was constantly working, supporting, encouraging, and motivating. Every phone conversation I had with her (and there were many) always included a new musical project for her, or me, or usually both of us, to get stuck in with.
She wrote a wonderful book on piano pedalling which was well received, and which really needs now to be reprinted. She planned a follow up book to this excellent first volume.
Margaret was also a highly accomplished composer in her own right. A number of her beautifully crafted miniatures are still available in print. Additionally, she made transcriptions, including a most exquisite one for clarinet and piano duo of John’s solo piano version of the ‘Three Interludes’ from his film score ‘Another Time, Another Place’. I was deeply honoured and privileged to perform Margaret’s transcription with the clarinettist and principal of RNCM, Professor Linda Merrick at a special John McLeod 80th birthday concert in 2014.
Margaret had a highly stimulating and extremely busy career. Her performances ranged from triumphant renderings of Bartók’s Third Concerto through world premieres of her husband’s works, duo sonata repertoire and harpsichord continuo work (as well as much else).
But in spite of such ‘perpetual motion’, she never failed to be anything other than a wonderful mother and grandmother, and an extraordinary wife! As partner to John she was, undeniably, superwoman. Her energetic fervour, loyalty, and passionate endeavour knew no bounds when it came to supporting John McLeod the composer. Not only did she perform her husband’s glorious music, but she also helped and assisted with the tiring tasks of administration, copying, proof-reading and so on. And she was far from inactive in terms of promoting John’s music: Immediately after her husband John’s Sixtieth birthday concert at Napier University in 1994 (an event which Margaret lovingly organised and masterminded) the composer Ronald Stevenson pulled me aside and said,
‘We should be deeply moved, touched and humbled by the huge love that Margaret has just shown to dear John. That is devotion. That is loyalty’.
Ronald Stevenson always had a soft spot in his heart for dear Margaret, just as I am sure everyone privileged enough to come into contact with her did too. When John phoned me on Monday with the sad news, of course tears immediately filled my eyes, along with deep concern for John himself, who has lost his devoted partner after over 60 years of blissful marriage. Indeed, they had only just celebrated their Diamond Wedding anniversary on 12 August in a hospital party at which Margaret showed extraordinary fortitude, positivity, and spirit.
But, as the grief continues, we should also feel a deep sense of gratitude for all that Margaret did. She was courageous beyond belief in the face of her final illness, over the past twelve months in particular, so it is a merciful blessing indeed that she is no longer suffering.
There remains a deep held conviction that Margaret is continuing to inspire us all by watching over what we do. In particular she will ensure that the world shows continued loyalty for John’s glorious music. As mentioned earlier, Margaret assisted so much in John’s artistic work, and John looked after Margaret too. In the final months, as throughout all their marriage, John was exceptionally caring and loving. It is comforting to know that she spent her final days in her beloved music room, surrounded by flowers with her Steinway grand and photos not only of her family but also including one of Emil Gilels, her special pianistic hero.
Margaret Murray McLeod
pianist, teacher, educator, writer, and composer
Born: Southend-on-Sea, 18th November 1936
Died: Edinburgh 26th September 2021
Guest Post by Doug Hanvey
Have you ever had (or been) a piano student who struggles to learn good technique, or to retrain poor technique previously learned?
I certainly have! As a piano teacher specializing in adult learners, many of whom have studied in the past, it’s not uncommon that I must help a student improve or even completely overhaul their technique…
For example, there’s Monique, my 60-year-old student who last studied as a child. Try as she might, Monique has continued to struggle with flying pinkies and collapsing wrists.
Even students with relatively good technique may need improvements. For example, I’ve studied and teach the fundamentals of the Taubman technique. Bringing awareness to the many subtle movements involved such as forearm rotation, in-and-out movements and “shaping” can be challenging for any student.
How might teachers and self-learning students facilitate the learning or retraining of technique?
Perhaps it’s first worth asking: are there any prerequisites for learning or retraining technique?Continue reading Enhancing Technique with Mindfulness of the Body
Guest Post by Paul Harris
Do you ever swing off the beaten track? Musically, I mean…
Maybe searching out some new repertoire for your pupils?
Considering some aspect of technique you’ve always wanted to explore but never found the time?
Listening to some music you’ve always wanted to but never have?
Investigating an obscure but interesting composer?
If you have a moment or two I’d like to share with you my enthusiasm for one of the most extraordinary of all piano pieces, written by one of the most extraordinary of all composers.
The composer would not allow performances of this piece.
And at the time of composition it was longest and most complex work ever written for the piano.
A year or so ago my friend and colleague Tony Meredith gave me a copy of the music. He had purchased it at a rather special auction. Actually it’s a very special copy – it was given to Malcolm Arnold as a Christmas present in 1971 by fellow composer John Gardner with the delightful inscription: a divertissement for Xmas.
Malcolm must have been fascinated by it and judging by the state of the copy, I’m sure he did spend some quality time trying to make sense of the work therein, which fills some 252 pages.
He may even have played some if it… but not too much. He was a good pianist but you need a John Ogden to play this work. And indeed John Ogden did play it – and record it.
The Big Reveal
Well, enough of this teasing… you may have guessed I’m talking about the mammoth four-and-a-half hour (depending on your general stamina and well-being) epic Opus Clavicembalisticum, composed by Kaikhosru Sorabji (born Leon Sorabji in Chingford, Essex in 1892).
The thirty-eight year old Sorabji had already written a lot of piano music, much in the tradition of Chopin, Alkan and Liszt. He was also deeply interested in the music of Schoenberg, Scriabin, Mahler and Debussy (before many knew much about them) as well as having a fascination for complex structures.
There is a vast collection of piano music, much of it of conventional length (though there is also a nine-hour work if you do like your music ridiculously long).
There’s a helpful list to be found here.
But going back to Opus Clavicembalisticum – happily it’s not in one continuous movement, but divided into twelve sections that include four fugues, a passacaglia with 81 variations, two massive cadenzas and much else.
There have been a surprising number of performances and there are recordings. It’s not exactly easy-listening. But there’s no doubt that Sorabji is a voice worth listening to.
In a letter to a friend shortly after completing the work, the composer wrote:
“The closing four pages are as cataclysmic and catastrophic as anything I’ve ever done — the harmony bites like nitric acid the counterpoint grinds like the mills of God, to close finally on this implacable monosyllable” (an enormous chord that requires five staves).
‘Anything I’ve ever done,’ understates Sorabji – actually anything that just about anyone else had ever done!
Of course should you wish, you are allowed to play this work. There never really was a ban on this music. But maybe Sorabji’s deep anxiety that no one could do it justice (after a disappointing first performance evidently) has led to his music being largely forgotten.
You can download the Opus from the Sorabji Archive Website for a small fee.
There are also delightful miniatures believe it or not – the Toccatinetta for example. And if you can be bothered, there’s quite a (very sizable) treasure chest of fascinating stuff to be re-discovered.
I’d loved to have been there when Malcolm opened his Christmas present in 1971.
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Guest Post by Garreth Brooke
Those of us who grew up hearing stories of the young prodigy Mozart composing his first music aged 5, or Beethoven composing the 9th whilst already deaf, may be forgiven for sometimes assuming that composing is something rarified and mysterious, inaccessible for us ordinary folk.
But if the recent explosion of wonderful original solo piano compositions from the likes of Barbara Arens, June Armstrong, Alison Mathews and Nikolas Sideris and many others that have been featured on Pianodao teaches us nothing else, it is that composition is not reserved just for the transcendent few.
What’s more, there are many resources available that you can use to guide you through introducing composition to students.
These resources, combined with an encouraging attitude and a sense of humour, can make composing a really fun and educational activity that both you and your students will enjoy. Best of all, none of these resources require you the teacher to be a composer. All you need is an encouraging attitude and a willingness to experiment.
Below you will find a list of resources that will help you to introduce yourself and your students to composing, as well as some tips from Barbara, June, Alison and Nikolas.Continue reading “You Composed This!”
Guest Post by Garreth Brooke
Like many other piano teachers I have studied music but not pedagogy.
When I first began teaching after finishing my music degree this did not seem such a problem, and certainly it did not stop me from finding work or my students from telling me that I’m a good teacher. Increasingly, however, I’ve realised that if I want to be a great piano teacher I need to be trained both as a pianist and as a teacher. It doesn’t matter how much we know about music or how well we can play, we have to also understand how to communicate that knowledge effectively to our students.
A 2014 survey on the UK-based Cross-Eyed Pianist blog of private piano teachers revealed that less than half of the respondents had teaching diplomas, and only 30% had training in music pedagogy. This is understandable. Piano teaching often comes as a result of a passion for playing the piano, not because we have always wanted to be a teacher. I’m certainly true in that regard, and indeed actively avoided teaching until forced to by circumstance, when I realised to my surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed it.
In an ideal world, once we realise we want to be a piano teacher, we’d all be able to afford to take 3 years off and get a degree in music pedagogy but unfortunately that’s rarely – if ever – realistic. Luckily there are several options for part-time study for teachers who are based in the UK or who use the UK examination boards, including studying for a diploma with an exam board like ABRSM or Trinity, getting a qualification from a pedagogical group like Suzuki or Kodály, attending the EPTA’s Practical Piano Teaching course, or signing up for the Curious Piano Teachers.
Only one of these, however, allow you to get a qualification from a recognised examination board from the comfort of your own home: the Curious Piano Teachers run a course that prepares student teachers to take either the ATCL from Trinity College or the DipABRSM in Teaching from ABRSM. This course was however not open for enrollment when I was researching what I could study (the next enrollment date as I write is likely to be in June 2018) and I was therefore excited to learn about the RCM’s Online Piano Teacher Specialist Course, which is run more frequently. (NB for Brits – this is the Canadian Royal Conservatory of Music, not the Royal College of Music).
I eagerly signed up and was thrilled to be invited to share my experiences with the Pianodao readers. I first wrote an article on this topic back in February 2017, when I was in Week 3 of the course. What you are currently reading is the revised and updated version, written in September 2017, a few months after I completed the course.Continue reading Online Piano Teacher Training
Guest Post by Roberta Wolff
One of the things I love about teaching is hitting upon that perfect explanation, aural, visual or verbal, which offers immediate clarity. Sometimes the answer comes after much reflection and thought and sometimes it seems to hit, apparently, from nowhere.
This is what happened recently with an adult student. After a strong start to her piece she began scrambling, reacting to the notes on the score rather than working with control. I pointed out that to keep playing at her current speed would be to create musical baggage.
This was the first time I had used the term, but her comprehension was immediate simply because she already understood the common phrase, emotional baggage. The idea of musical baggage resonated with her and so has proven to be a simple but powerful aid to her practice.
Naturally, I developed the idea so it could benefit more than just one student…Continue reading How much musical baggage do you carry?
This interview of Andrew by Frances Wilson originally appeared on her site The Cross-Eyed Pianist, and is reproduced here with her kind permission.Continue reading Andrew Eales: an interview
Guest Post by Paul HarrisContinue reading A Voyage of Discovery