Dustin Hoffman’s Dream

Take a little time to pause before playing on…
Written by Andrew Eales.

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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Barbara Arens: Piano Misterioso

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In my review of Barbara Arens’ ’21 Amazingly Easy Pieces’ last month I concluded:

“The partnership between composer and publisher has clearly worked brilliantly here, and the resulting book is quite simply a delight. Let’s hope for more to come!”

I’m therefore particularly happy to be reviewing the follow up ‘Piano Misterioso’, especially as all the praise offered in my previous review equally applies here. It is clear that publishers Breitkopf & Härtel have again given their full professional attention to editorial detail, beautifully presenting Barbara’s latest pieces with class and distinction.

Continue reading Barbara Arens: Piano Misterioso

“Practice Starters” – Pick a Card!

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New from Paul Harris and Faber Music, and launched at Music Education Expo in London today, “Practice Starters” is a pack of cards which aims to kick start and refresh your practice sessions. And it’s a lot of fun!..

Continue reading “Practice Starters” – Pick a Card!

“Eastern Preludes Collection” – Christopher Norton

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Christopher Norton is very deservedly one of the most famous and beloved educational composers alive today. Perhaps best known for his ground-breaking and million-selling ‘Microjazz’ series, which is one of the most widely used educational series ever, he has added many other outstanding collections to his list of publications.

His piano “Preludes” series is a particular favourite, with previous collections including ‘Jazz Preludes’, ‘Rock Preludes’, ‘Latin Preludes’ and ‘Country Preludes’.

To these, Christopher recently added ‘Eastern Preludes Collection’, the subject of this review…

Continue reading “Eastern Preludes Collection” – Christopher Norton

Recovery from Injury: Alicja Fiderkiewicz

Following on from the recent interview with Evelina de Lain in which she talked about her recovery from a serious piano playing injury, I am delighted to talk to Alicja Fiderkiewicz, an internationally renowned  classical concert pianist who has experienced her own trauma with injury.

To provide more background before exploring Alicja’s recovery from injury, I wanted to find out more about her piano journey, starting with her lessons as a child growing up in Poland and Soviet Russia…

Continue reading Recovery from Injury: Alicja Fiderkiewicz

Let’s talk about our practice expectations

Supporting teachers, promoting piano education.
Written by Andrew Eales

Lack of practice is an issue that most piano players grapple with at some point – and it is something that teachers don’t always handle graciously and with understanding…

Continue reading Let’s talk about our practice expectations

21 Amazingly Easy Pieces

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21 Amazingly Easy Pieces is an original collection of new pieces by Barbara Arens, published by Breitkopf & Härtel in 2014, which has recently come to my attention, and I am seriously impressed with it.

Composer Barbara Arens is a passionately dedicated piano teacher. She began her studies at the Mozarteum in Salzburg at the age of 13. After a concert career performing primarily as harpsichordist and organist, she now puts her diverse abilities and experiences into composing for her piano
pupils. She presently lives near Würzburg, Germany, after living in Beirut, Dallas, San Francisco, Singapore, Salzburg, London and Munich.

Knowing that Barbara has such extensive experience – of performing, of teaching, and of the world – gave me high hopes for these books, and I was not disappointed.

Continue reading 21 Amazingly Easy Pieces

András Schiff & Natural Breathing

Breathing and stretching exercises for healthy practice and living
Compiled for Pianodao by Andrew Eales.

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

Is Mindfulness relevant to piano playing?

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


Doug Hanvey is a highly qualified and experienced educationalist and teacher of both piano pedagogy and mindfulness. Here he discusses the link between the two…

Continue reading Is Mindfulness relevant to piano playing?

The Art of Piano Pedagogy

Supporting teachers, promoting piano education.
Written by Andrew Eales

The great Russian pedagogue Heinrich Neuhaus (who taught such legendary classical pianists as Radu Lupu, Sviatoslav Richter and Emil Gilels) wrote:

“I consider that one of the main tasks of a teacher is to ensure as quickly and as thoroughly as possible that he is no longer necessary to the pupil; to eliminate himself, to leave the stage in time, in other words to inculcate in the pupil that independent thinking, that method of work, that knowledge of self and ability to reach his goal which we term ‘maturity’, the threshold beyond which begins mastery.”

Heinrich Neuhaus
The Art of Piano Playing, (trans. K.A. Leibovitch, London 1973)

Continue reading The Art of Piano Pedagogy

Overcoming Injury – A Personal Story

In this powerful guest post, professional pianist Evelina de Lain writes of her background growing up in the former USSR, the serious injury that stopped her piano playing career in its tracks, her discovery of jazz, and how she finally overcame her injury to become a successful professional pianist with a growing international career… 

Continue reading Overcoming Injury – A Personal Story

Paying attention to the small things

Take a little time to pause before playing on…
Written by Andrew Eales.

“You may be capable of great things,
But life consists of small things.”

Deng Ming Dao is a popular contemporary writer whose meditation books have a Daoist emphasis – I’ve quoted from him before, and no doubt will again as he is a source of tremendous wisdom.

I highly recommend all his books, and the best-selling ‘365 Tao’ is a great place to start, offering a thought a day throughout the year.

Today’s thought is, I think, of particular relevance to musicians. Here’s an extract, which I hope you will enjoy reflecting on:

“Big things seldom come along.
One should know the small as well as the big.

We may all yearn to make lasting achievements and to be heroes, but life seldom affords us the opportunities to do so. Most of our days consist of small things – the uneventful meditations, the ordinary cooking of meals, the banal trips to work, the quiet scratching in the garden – and it is from these small things that the larger events of our lives are composed.

The master musician’s best composition is but one work in a sea of musical tones. If we want to be successful, it is the small things that we should pay attention to.

We must not fall in the trap of waiting so long for the big things that we let numerous small chances slip right by us. People who do this are forever waiting for life to be perfect. They complain that fate is against them, that the world does not recognise their greatness. If they would lower their sights, they would see all the beautiful opportunities waiting at their feet. If they would humble themselves enough to bend down, they could scoop untold treasures up into their hands.”


PIANODAO includes more than 600 articles and reviews,
which are free for everyone, everywhere to access and read.
Please support the site by making a small contribution.



Jorge Bolet on competitions

Take a little time to pause before playing on…
Written by Andrew Eales.

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…

Continue reading Jorge Bolet on competitions

“Sound before symbol”: lessons from history

Supporting teachers, promoting piano education.
Written by Andrew Eales

Musicians and teachers often debate the relative merits of aural-based learning versus a notation-driven approach. Seeing the topic wheeled out for discussion again recently, I was reminded of this brilliant quote by the legendary concert pianist Andor Földes, taken from his book “Keys to the Keyboard” written back in 1950 :

“There is no such thing as a proper age for a child to start playing the piano. I avoid saying ‘to start his musical education’ because I believe that an education in music should start very early, perhaps years before the child ever actually learns how to read notes, or can find his way among the black and white keys.”

Földes’ basic point – made some four decades before “The Sounding Symbol” by George Odam re-popularised the phrase “sound before symbol” – is that music is essentially an aural language, and that playing and reading must build on that foundation.

Continue reading “Sound before symbol”: lessons from history

Piano Lessons: Why 45 minutes?

Supporting teachers, promoting piano education.
Written by Andrew Eales

During a recent discussion I mentioned that I prefer to teach my students for 45 minutes weekly or fortnightly, even when they are beginners (more advanced students often come for a consultation lesson once a month for 90 minutes).

The question was asked,

“45 minutes for somebody on Grade One is a lot, surely… isn’t 30 minutes long enough?”

Continue reading Piano Lessons: Why 45 minutes?

“Grade by Grade”

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This innovative new series of books from Boosey & Hawkes makes the bold claim to be “the complete resource for the grade ‘x’ pianist”. But does it live up to its aims?

Continue reading “Grade by Grade”

ABRSM’s Encore Series

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Over the years ABRSM have produced a steady flow of graded piano repertoire books to supplement their exam resources, with series such as A Keyboard Anthology and Short Romantic Pieces becoming standard items in the teacher’s library.

However, one could have been forgiven for wondering whether some of these selections were made up of the most obscure pieces set in previous syllabi rather than the most widely enjoyed. So when Faber Music brought out their “Best of Grade…” books a few years ago, those looking for a one-stop collection of consistently appealing and varied pieces breathed a collective sigh of relief.

This summer ABRSM have responded with the publication of Encore, a set of four books which, based on their own data, include the most popular pieces featured in graded exams over the last decade or so.

Happily these collections include some great in-house pieces and arrangements now unavailable elsewhere. So, might these books play a central role in students learning over the next few years?

Let’s take a closer look.

Continue reading ABRSM’s Encore Series

Lucinda Mackworth-Young: “Piano by Ear”

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Lucinda Mackworth-Young’s new book “Piano by Ear” fills a massive gap in the market. Quite simply this is the book that I, and no doubt many other thousands of pianists and teachers, have been waiting for. For years!

I even considered writing something like it myself at one point, back at the time my own Keyquest books for electronic keyboard were just out. But thank goodness – Lucinda Mackworth-Young has saved us all the effort, and has certainly done a great job of it!

Continue reading Lucinda Mackworth-Young: “Piano by Ear”

Recovery from Abuse: Interview with Fiona Whelpton

Author Fiona Whelpton has allowed me to share this interview in which she talks about her own ordeal and the road to recovery …

The relationship between music teachers and their students is a particularly important one. At best it can nurture young people’s development both as a person and bring out the best of their talents as a musician. But what happens when boundaries are crossed and rules get broken?

Continue reading Recovery from Abuse: Interview with Fiona Whelpton

Feeling Impatient?

Take a little time to pause before playing on…
Written by Andrew Eales.

One thing is certain – everything changes. But sometimes things can take longer than we hoped for, in stark contrast to the general pace of our lives today. Is it any wonder that we often feel impatient?

Perhaps there are obstacles that won’t shift from your pathway. Wounds that won’t heal. Or simply a favourite piece of music that you would love to be able to play on the piano, but which somehow seems far out of your reach.

As qigong master Kam Chuen Lam explains, some things simply take time – and are all the better for it!

“All authentic growth takes time. So does healing and the process of deep strengthening. It is like giving birth.
In the more than thirty years that I have been teaching and treating people in the West, I have always had to tell people that nature takes time to form, nourish and give birth to new life.
I tell my students, ‘You can’t make a plant grow by tugging on it every day. You simply put it in good soil, give it just enough water and light, and let it grow. If you do that it will grow naturally. That is its nature’.”

Master Kam Chuen Lam: The Qigong Workbook for Anxiety


PIANODAO includes more than 600 articles and reviews,
which are free for everyone, everywhere to access and read.
Please support the site by making a small contribution.



The Quiet Fields

Take a little time to pause before playing on…
Written by Andrew Eales.

The writer Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927) gave us these much treasured words:

“Come away from the din.
Come away to the quiet fields,
over which the great sky stretches,
and where, between us and the stars,
there lies but silence;
and there, in the stillness
let us listen to the voice
that is speaking within us.”

Whether speaking of the Divine, or perhaps the voice of our own inner creative inspiration, these words represent a powerful call which we should and surely must heed on a regular basis.

For the school child, the busy professional or the highly active senior, the “Quiet Fields” could mean time spent at the piano.

For those of us whose work involves performing on or teaching the piano, the “Quiet Fields” are necessarily elsewhere.

But for all of us the imperative applies: we need time away from the daily grind to listen and to renew.


PIANODAO includes more than 600 articles and reviews,
which are free for everyone, everywhere to access and read.
Please support the site by making a small contribution.



Enjoy a long, healthy life!

Take a little time to pause before playing on…
Written by Andrew Eales.

An ancient Daoist text “Principles of Nourishing Life and Cultivating Longevity”  (recently translated by Eva Wong and included in within her book “Being Taoist“)  includes the following simple advice:

“When you are young, don’t spend a lot of energy doing what everyone thinks is appropriate.
When you’ve reached maturity, don’t be too competitive.
When you’ve passed middle age, you should begin to find contentment.
When you are old, you should minimise desires.
Exercise the body gently to prevent it from stiffening, and entertain your mind leisurely to prevent it from deteriorating.
In this way you will enjoy a healthy and long life.”

There is of course no quick fix solution to avoid death, no elixir of life to sustain us indefinitely, and we know that once our energy is gone, the end will come.

But perhaps the above advice is useful when thinking about our own approach and lifestyle. We could all do with questioning what steps we are taking to enjoy a healthier and longer life.


PIANODAO includes more than 600 articles and reviews,
which are free for everyone, everywhere to access and read.
Please support the site by making a small contribution.



Andrei Gavrilov’s concerns

Supporting teachers, promoting piano education.
Written by Andrew Eales

Andrei Gavrilov is one of the world’s finest concert pianists, who has in recent years dedicated himself to giving master-classes to upcoming players around the world. So when he comments on the current state of music education and piano playing, it is certainly worth listening.

Some of his latest comments could prove controversial however. Gavrilov has provided a lengthy list of the “major mistakes” that he feels are “obstacles to artistic development”.

You can read his comments in full on the Cross-Eyed Pianist page here, but the overall impression he gives is that teachers and young pianists are neglecting artistic development, musical analysis and cultural understanding.

He concludes that in four years of giving master-classes, he met:

“…nobody who could even be able to touch a single serious composition without destroying it in all senses.”

While it is beyond doubt that Gavrilov’s robust observations offer genuine insight, I feel sure that he must be overstating his case!

I personally know of many leading players and teachers who go out of their way to place music in its proper historical and cultural context. Nor is there any shortage of upcoming players able to communicate great art with profound depth, with younger artists like Benjamin Grosvenor, Daniil Trifonov, Igor Levitt, Jonathan Biss, Alice Sara Ott, Khatia Buniatishvili, Sunwook Kim, HJ Lim, Beatrice Rana, Conrad Tao, Louis Schwizgebel, Federico Colli and others firmly proving the point.

That said, Gavrilov is not the first, and nor is he alone, in expressing concerns about current trends in music education and performing.

Speaking to International Piano magazine (Jan/Feb 2014) the internationally revered pianist Maria João Pires suggested that in her view it is the “competitive world” that has destroyed a lot of the transmission of our culture, and she sees a clear connection between piano competitions and marketing.

She says:

“To compete always damages your soul. If you compete you are not a musician any more.
We old musicians should perhaps give the new generation alternatives. I think our mission is to transmit what has been transmitted to us. This competitive world, this marketing world, has destroyed a lot of that transmission.
Competitions are not the way, that’s for sure!”

Piano competitions have certainly come to dominate the commerce, marketing and performing culture of our time, especially for aspiring professional players. Given this context, is it really any wonder if teachers encourage competition participation and focus on the aspects of their students development most likely to turn them into “winners”?

According to Pires, competing “damages the soul”, strong words indeed. This is one of the many issues that Pianodao will need to look at in more detail over the coming months. For now it is sufficient to note that for too many players, their experience even at an early age irrevocably equates performing with competition.

Some refuse to play at all in later life, even exhibiting significant anxiety reactions to any request to play in front of others. The field is thus left clear for the “winners” to scale ever greater heights of technical virtuosity, continuing their tour of the competition circuit in the hopes of making a reputation for themselves.

Whether or not Gavrilov’s concerns and those of Pires are connected, there is no doubt that he has touched on important issues that pianists and teachers will want to ponder. It will certainly be very interesting to see how his colleagues around the world respond to his critique.


PIANODAO includes more than 600 articles and reviews,
which are free for everyone, everywhere to access and read.
Please support the site by making a small contribution.



Happiness

Take a little time to pause before playing on…
Written by Andrew Eales.

“Humanity grows more and more intelligent, yet there is clearly more trouble and less happiness daily.
How can this be so?
It is because intelligence is not the same thing as wisdom.”

Lao Tzu: Hua Hu Ching (translated Brian Walker)

The big question for us all is this: what do we do with our knowledge?

Do we accumulate knowledge simply to “fight back”, to be “better” and more “successful” than the next person?

Or does our own self-improvement and development go hand in hand with generosity towards other people?

There are many possible responses, but it’s important to recognise the priority of wisdom over knowledge, because this leads to happiness and peace.


PIANODAO includes more than 600 articles and reviews,
which are free for everyone, everywhere to access and read.
Please support the site by making a small contribution.



“Developing Gradually”

Setting our piano journey in its living context.
Written by Andrew Eales.

Have you noticed that the pace of life isn’t slowing?

That social change and technological innovation are often adding to the stress of your daily life rather than alleviating it?

Sometimes we simply need to slow down. To find calm and purpose.

This is true for all of life – including our piano playing.

The image of a tree growing gradually on a mountainside sums up the natural wisdom of making secure progress, and reaching purposefully towards all the points one must in one’s individual journey.

This image of “Developing Gradually” (I Ching 53) is likely to recur here on the Pianodao site as core wisdom. It underpins the development of this site.

There is so much I would like to share here – but it will take time. The planning is done, and roots are growing into the ground. Over the next few months and years I hope that many branches will grow.

And I hope that as you join me on this journey, you will be nourished by the fruits of the site.

Welcome to Pianodao.


PIANODAO includes more than 600 articles and reviews,
which are free for everyone, everywhere to access and read.
Please support the site by making a small contribution.