Stephen Hough: No More Loo Breaks?

It may be distressing to think of all these good people having to hold on, but we need to read Stephen Hough’s comments about ‘ditching the interval’ in their context…

Stephen Hough is rightly fêted not only as one of our greatest classical concert artists, but as an erudite and thoughtful writer. So it is no surprise that his recent piece “No more loo breaks” (published in the Radio Times, 20-26 August 2016 edition, no full online version) has attracted a lot of attention in the media and provoked plenty of debate online.

The reporting and discussion of his article has focussed on just the headline point from what is in any case a fairly short comment piece. Reading his comments in their intended context clarifies the questions to be addressed, and Hough is to be applauded for setting a positive and stimulating debate in motion.

Continue reading Stephen Hough: No More Loo Breaks?

ARSM: Your Questions Answered

Interview with Penny Milsom, Executive Director of Products and Services, ABRSM

Professional diplomas in music performance and teaching have proliferated in recent years to a point where even many music professionals are sometimes baffled by the sea of letters that follow a colleague’s name.

Latest “diploma” on the block is the new ARSM performing diploma from ABRSM, the world’s leading music examining board.

The ARSM joins existing diplomas the DipABRSM, LRSM and FRSM, and is intended to bridge the gap between Grade 8 (the highest amateur qualification ABRSM offer) and the DipABRSM professional qualification.

The ARSM syllabus and full information were launched last week, following which there has been much discussion about the purpose and validity of the new diploma, some of it summarised in this post by my friend and colleague Frances Wilson.

So I was delighted to have an opportunity to discuss it with Penny Milsom, Executive Director – Products and Services, ABRSM.

I put to Penny a number of the questions I have seen colleagues asking online. Read on for her responses, and I hope you enjoy what proved to be a very enlightening interview.

Continue reading ARSM: Your Questions Answered

The Pianist’s Lineage

The Pianist’s Reflections Series

Until quite recently it never occurred to me to consider who my teacher’s teacher’s teacher’s teacher was…

But then I realised (somewhat inadvertently while looking into the history of piano teaching) that my teacher’s teacher’s teacher’s teacher was none other than Franz Liszt, perhaps the greatest and most influential pianist of all time.

At which point I decided it was time to give the matter more serious thought…

Now let’s get this bit over with quickly, because (as we shall see) I’m really not about to claim my “lineage” endows me with any special status or ability. But here it is:

  • My final teacher at college (in the 1980s), Joseph Weingarten (1911-1996), was a student of the great pianist and composer Ernő Dohnányi (1877-1960).
  • Dohnányi had been a student of István Thomán (1862-1940) and Eugen d’Albert (1864-1932), both of whom were students of Franz Liszt (1811-1886).
  • Liszt, incidentally, was a student of Carl Czerny (1791-1857), who in turn was a student of Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827).

T H U D !!
There’s the sound of some pretty heavy name-dropping!

And if you are interested in tracing your own legacy, this information on Wikipedia is a helpful resource.

Continue reading The Pianist’s Lineage

10 Important Memory Tricks for Pianists

Guest Article by Sofie Kay

Have you ever suddenly forgotten your PIN? It happened to me once. I was standing in line with a friend who said something to me just as I was about to enter my number, and it suddenly went out of my head. I couldn’t remember those 4 digits until about a year later! It was a bizarre experience.

The same thing happened with a piano piece I loved, too. I was 16, attending a residential piano school and in a group lesson where we were being critiqued by an expert in the field.

I played Debussy’s Arabesque No. 1, was told by the professor to play something at the beginning a bit differently, and suddenly found I couldn’t play any of the first page any more. I needed to sight-read the page to work out what I needed to do!

The commonality between these two situations is that while I was preparing to do something I expected to be second nature to me, something out of the ordinary happened, and in essence it caused a glitch…

In the case of the PIN, a friend saying something was enough to throw me off.

In the case of the summer school lesson:

  • I was performing,
  • I was intimidated by how wise and experienced the professor was, and
  • The professor had asked me to change the way I was playing the piece, and had pointed out I was playing a wrong left hand note near the beginning (after months of playing it this way…)

All situations that can throw a nervous teenager off. I did my research and found out that this phenomenon can happen with anything we’ve learned, but there are ways to combat it…

Continue reading 10 Important Memory Tricks for Pianists

Music Collaboration Online

SoundCloud has become, since its inception in August 2007, the website of choice for collaborating musicians, offering them the ability to freely upload tracks, sharing them privately with selected recipients, downloading, and leaving timed comments.

It’s been a simple but winning formula that has won considerable popularity against more complex rival collaborative offerings.

Continue reading Music Collaboration Online

Dustin Hoffman’s Dream

Ever wished you could be one of the top Hollywood movie stars of your generation? 

It turns out that Dustin Hoffman had a different dream, as he relates in an interview with the Radio Times magazine (5-11 March 2016):

“I always wanted to be a piano player.
I grew up studying piano, particularly jazz.
I just didn’t have the talent.

I had the desire. I had the feeling for it – and I still have it – but I didn’t have a very good ear.
I couldn’t just sit down and play something if you whistled it, like many musicians can.
I could not read regular classical music quickly; it was all laborious for me.

I still feel I missed my calling in life.
If God said today, “You will be what you always wanted to be, starting right now, and that is a really good jazz pianist”, I’d quit everything and be quite happy.”

This collection of thoughts and statements suggests to me many ways in which we use language quite loosely.

What, for example, is “a piano player” or for that matter “a really good jazz pianist”? Are these labels limited to those who can earn a living as a performer? At what stage in one’s development as a pianist is one allowed to use the term?

And then there is the question of “talent”. If ever there was a word that is used to convey so much, but actually conveys so little, “talent” is surely a contender!

Why did Dustin Hoffman believe that he “didn’t have the talent”? Did a teacher or parent take him to one side and gently break the news? Did he fail an exam or lose a competition? Or did he simply submit to the worst insults leveled at him by his own inner critic?

The answers to these questions are perhaps not for the knowing, but it is interesting that Dustin Hoffman goes on to talk about the ideas contained in Kung Fu Panda 3, the latest movie he is involved with.

Hoffman concludes the interview with this thought:

“One of the themes of Kung Fu Panda 3 is that they use the word “Chi”, in other words finding your inner self; the purpose of life is to find your inner self. Your essence.
And I think you spend a lifetime doing that.”

For me, being a pianist is a real part of my “inner self”, regardless of whether I have a successful concert career or not. And I suspect many readers will identify with piano playing in the same way – as a core part of our identity and means of self-expression.

If so, do not listen to your inner critic, to the teacher who puts you down, to the competition judge who overlooks you, or to the audition board that pass you over.

Be sure to pursue your dream, because the rest is just noise.


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Social Media and Feelings of Inadequacy

Following on from her well-received post “Am I Really Good Enough“, guest author Frances Wilson turns her focus to the impact that social media can have on our view of ourselves…

Continue reading Social Media and Feelings of Inadequacy

Am I Really Good Enough?

Guest author Frances Wilson considers a question we all ask ourselves from time to time, sometimes more frequently than we should…

Continue reading Am I Really Good Enough?

András Schiff & Natural Breathing

András Schiff – surely one of the most respected concert pianists of our time – made the following extraordinary observation in a recent interview with Pianist Magazine (No.76, Feb-March 2014):

“For me, it is breathing that is vital. You must breathe naturally, like a singer. Pianists and string players often tend to forget the necessity of breathing and they can become very tense; then they get back pains and wrist pains and so on. Usually it can be sorted out through the breathing.”

Breathing is a subject that I have rarely seen discussed in connection with piano technique, and even less so in the context of pianists’ injuries, their causes, cures and corrections. Schiff is hitting on a point that it would seem is indeed too often overlooked.

In this article I will consider the links between natural breathing and Qigong practice, as well as offering a simple breathing exercise that anyone can try…

Continue reading András Schiff & Natural Breathing

Jorge Bolet on competitions

The journalist Jeremy Nicholas interviewed legendary pianist Jorge Bolet back in 1977, and among other things asked him why “The Romantic Pianist” seemed already by then to have vanished.

Bolet’s reply was prescient, and perhaps even more relevant today than it was in the 1970s. Here is his response:

Continue reading Jorge Bolet on competitions