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!
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…
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)…
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?
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).
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.
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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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.
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.
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’:
Obviously, they won’t do. There were a few others though:
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.
I have a recurring nightmare. It involves me and a piano…
I see the instrument from the other side of the room and then move stealthily, not too fast mind you, over to sit down on the stool waiting patiently for me. Everything seems like it’s going well up to this point. The horror only kicks in as I press down the notes for that first D minor 7 chord. The piano is totally out of tune with sticking notes I can’t avoid.
I’m sure some of us have also encountered this outside of our sleeping times, me included. Apart from our instrument, a piano tuner is our next most important point on our must have checklist.
With this in mind I decided to interview Nathan Winterbine, a piano tuner (based in Melbourne, Australia) who I only met last year, but instantly warmed to. His prompt service, fixed price and then excellent workmanship cemented him as my “go to” tuner.
I sat down with Nathan and plugged him with questions I wanted answered…