Revelling in the moment

Guest post by John Pitts, composer, teacher, and author of the book How to Play Indian Sitar Raags on a Piano

As a pianist, I’ve always loved the actual sound of the piano. It is a very personal instrument. I’m not knocking the usefulness of an electric keyboard, but for me nothing beats the responsiveness and the intimate resonance of a real piano, with the unstruck strings reverberating in sympathy with the played keys. Intimate, because the physical sound is at its most absorbing up close and personal.

Andrew Eales has kindly invited me to chart the journey that lead to my book of Indian raags (ragas/rags) for piano. In contemplating this, two related thoughts strike me:

  • first, that enjoying the piano’s sound itself (before and above the emotional journey of a piece) has been a common thread throughout my musical life, both as pianist and composer.
  • and second, that the slow exploration and enjoyment of sound is an intrinsic part of Indian classical raags.

This ‘revelling in the moment’ has been a big part of the appeal of Indian music for me: it resonates with what I’ve always done at a piano – doodled, improvised, composed.

It is music which organically grows – from slow, peaceful and pulseless, focussed on a small group of notes, with space to enjoy each note and gesture, gradually developing to fast and furious, rhythmically thrilling, filled with energy and joy.

The typical structure of a raag is a wonderfully crystallized miniature of the whole creative process – starting with slow, spacious improvisation, playing around with tiny ideas, gradually unveiling and exploring each small characteristic of an exotic collection of notes and motifs. This is followed by the main body of the raag – a kind of loose ritornello, based on a pre-selected melody (that may include a number of variations on the theme) interspersed with episodes of ever-more-exciting improvisation.

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The Effects of the Gendered Musical Canon

Guest Author, The Reverend Professor June Boyce-Tillman writes about the effect that the lack of female composers in music syllabuses had on a young child’s aspirations…

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Women composers and Graded Exams

Guest Post by David Duncan
Publications Officer, LCM Examinations

Should we care about the representation of women composers in graded music exams?

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How much musical baggage do you carry?

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?

My Journey towards the End of Time

I am delighted to host this wonderfully reflective post by the brilliant young pianist Iyad Sughayer, which touches on the nature of musical engagement:

Guest post by Iyad Sughayer

Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time is perhaps one of his most celebrated works. Written during his time as a war prisoner at the Nazi Stalag VIII-A camp after the German invasion of France, it is the most intense religiously inspired work I have ever come across.

Despite coming from a Muslim background, having grown up in Jordan, I was still able to understand the strong Catholic Liturgy behind the work. Indeed Messiaen’s Catholic beliefs are clearly and beautifully portrayed throughout the work.

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Does music grow on the family tree?

Guest Post by Simon Reich

I would imagine, many creative and serious musicians, would love their children to follow in the same footsteps? Well interestingly enough, it doesn’t always turn out that way.

Take my own four children for example…

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The Pianist’s Self-Compassion

The Pianist’s Reflections

Guest post by Frances Wilson

The life of the pianist is, by necessity, solitary (and I have written before about The Pianist’s Solitude). For many of us, the solitude is not an issue: we crave a sense of apartness to enable us to do our work and to create special connections with audiences when we perform, and we need quietude to allow time for self-reflection and evaluation.

The sequestered nature of the pianist’s life also calls for great self-reliance: we must  be self-starting, motivated, driven and focused to ensure our work (practising and preparation) is done each day. Most of us draw pleasure and satisfaction from knowing our work is done and done well, but without other colleagues and musical companions to interact with, it is easy for self-doubt to creep in, for us to question our role or our value, to ask “am I good enough?”. Continue reading The Pianist’s Self-Compassion

Developing Performance Skills

Guest author – Roberta Wolff

Success Criteria to Develop and Enhance Students’ Performing Skills.

The season of exams, festivals and Spring Concerts is approaching so today I am sharing a simple but powerful approach to help students take their piece from practice room to stage.

The tools we will use are success criteria which leave almost no room for ‘failure’, and which develop confidence, and a sense of control and awareness as students practise the art of performance.

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