Margaret Murray McLeod: An Appreciation

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


Compose Yourself!

GUEST FEATURE • by Lindsey Berwin


From a very young age, my ambition was to forge a career which in some way involved the piano.

After completing my A levels, I was fortunate enough to spend four rewarding years studying at the Royal Academy of Music. However the one area of formal musical training that was missing from my time spent there was composition.

As a result, when I began my piano teaching career and decided to embark on a journey into this unknown territory, it was very much an exploratory one. It began with me gingerly feeling my way, but it very quickly became one of excitement for both myself and my pupils!

Continue reading Compose Yourself!

Everything We Play

YOUR STORIES • Readers tell us about their own piano journey
READ MORE STORIESSHARE YOUR STORY

“Your Story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.”
Michelle Obama


I am delighted to share this reflective and uplifting vignette by Canadian pianist and educator Amy Boyes.

“Everything We Play” is a personal essay written from the perspective of an exhausted mother and music teacher. Wishing for some uninterrupted practice time to play something emotionally satisfying, the author is reminded by her young daughter that all music-making is beautiful…

Continue reading Everything We Play

Rob Hall: 18 Easy Escapes

GUEST FEATURE • by Dawn Wakefield


Saxophonist, clarinettist and composer Rob Hall has forged a highly individual path in music, consistently producing engaging, expressive and exploratory work that straddles genres.

He has toured widely throughout the UK and worldwide, and his performances (recorded and live) have been broadcast on BBC Radio 2, BBC Radio 3, JazzFM, BBC Scotland & BBC TV.

As an educator, Hall has extensive mentoring and coaching experience with all sectors from Primary level through to Higher and Adult education. He runs his own teaching practice The Music Workshop and his tireless commitment to jazz education over more than three decades has benefitted hundreds of aspiring and professional musicians. 

18 Easy Escapes for Piano, published by Spartan Press (SP1367) offers ‘Original creations and arrangements for the contemporary pianist and is suitable for elementary players (UK Grades 1-3)…

Continue reading Rob Hall: 18 Easy Escapes

Enhancing Technique with Mindfulness of the Body

PATHWAYS FOR LIVING • Guest Post by DOUG HANVEY
Setting our piano journey in its living context…


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

Do Not Play This Work!

GUEST FEATURE • 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.  

from the publication

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).

it begins…

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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Your Story: Simon Reich

YOUR STORIES • Readers tell us about their own piano journey
READ MORE STORIESSHARE YOUR STORY

“Your Story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.”
Michelle Obama


Simon Reich is a pianist and award-winning composer from Victoria, Australia. He has written several articles published here on the Pianodao site.

Simon’ latest post tells of how he has, in later life, turned to music as a full-time professional, and his experiences training as a media composer. As well as giving a special insight into his own personal journey, the post will be an encouragement to all considering a career in music.

Continue reading Your Story: Simon Reich

Piano: the future of music?

Guest Post by Simon Reich

Looking at the crystal ball into the future would have had me shaking my head and not believing what I was seeing…

The ubiquitous guitar is falling out of favour with the new generation of musicians.

Yes, you are reading correctly! Both electric and acoustic sales are dropping through the floor. The big guns of the guitar world, Fender and Gibson are facing hardships. In fact, Gibson, have already begun bankruptcy proceedings.

The six-stringed instrument has been the virtual logo for rock and pop since its inception. No-one ever suggested substituting a piano or keyboard as a sexy alternative to the guitar, but it appears that could now be the case.

And while you’re at it, you may need to add a laptop computer as well. Yes folks, these are the items that are causing a huge drop in guitar sales, MIDI keyboards and music software.

Continue reading Piano: the future of music?

Simplifying SEO for Piano Teachers

Guest Post by Sam Ficek

Sam Ficek has done a fine job of helping me maximise traffic on my teaching website, using basic Search Engine Optimisation tricks. Now he shares his know-how with the wider piano teaching community…

Continue reading Simplifying SEO for Piano Teachers

It’s Time To Stop Practising & Start…?

Guest post by Roberta Wolff

Alternatives to an outdated word

I propose a new word…

The word ‘practise’ is insufficient, it provides

  • No insight into what the activity entails
  • No guidelines on how to be successful at it
  • Little in the way of mass appeal

As a teacher and writer, I am not in the habit of making up words. I find using words my students and readers already comprehend far more efficient. So, my research started with a thesaurus. Here is a summary of the synonyms listed for ‘practise’:

  • Execute
  • Knock off
  • Persevere
  • Take up
  • Labour,(eek!)

Obviously, they won’t do. There were a few others though:

  • Pursue
  • Develop
  • Create

Not bad, but still not the full picture. From this overview a realisation emerged. There isn’t a word already in existence that can update and improve on the word ‘practise’.

If I wanted a new word, I would have to make it myself.

Continue reading It’s Time To Stop Practising & Start…?