Piano lessons in Bath

Author: bathpianolessons (Page 2 of 3)

New Work Premiere

I am very pleased to announce that my new piece Sunset Fan/Sunset Flood will be premiered on Thursday 27 August 2015, at St Swithin’s church, Bath.

Sunset Fan/Sunset Flood started as two poems of the same name written by writer James Roy Blair Anderson, whom I have previously collaborated with on Dust.

The piece is a suite for cello and piano in 4 movements, inspired by the words of the poems. The suite can be performed by itself, but it can also be performed alongside the spoken word.

My good friend Jon Stabler will be playing cello, with me on the piano. As you can see from the poster, there will also be performances of pieces from the repertoire, including Martinu’s evocative Variations on a Slovakian Theme. It is shaping up to be a great night!

If you would like tickets, please contact me via my website. The cost is £5, but you can also turn up on the night and pay on the door. Doors open 7:30pm.

For further details, please visit edwardbettella.com

St Swithin's concert poster

St Swithin’s concert poster

My Favourite Piano

I recently did a blog for The Piano Shop Bath and thought it was worth sharing here. Enjoy!

As a pianist, you will often find yourself trying out any piano you can, whether it be an old upright in a village hall, or the top of the range Steinway in a concert hall (usually with a sign saying ‘please do not play!) The reason? No two pianos are the same and each have their own story to tell. Even the most ‘perfect’ of pianos may in some ways be too much for your situation in life.

For instance, a Steinway Model D concert grand piano has long been a benchmark for concert pianists, and having played a couple I would thoroughly agree. But you would need the funds and the right kind of living space to own one, and even then it’s almost a crime to have such high level instrument for concerts simply locked away in your home. So with that, I have cast my mind back over the years and picked out a few of the pianos I have enjoyed, and in most cases I remember exactly where I was, what I was doing etc….

Danemann grand piano

This was probably a 1970’s baby grand piano in Rosewood finish, and it sat in my old school’s hall. I used to sneak in most lunchtimes to play, and often the dinner ladies in the adjacent canteen were very complimentary of my Debussy repertoire I was learning at the time! The action was quite light, but extremely responsive. It could play the lightest and fastest of runs with delicacy, and immediately go to full on loud chords. The essential tone of the piano was beautifully clear and resonant, with enough British warmth to give depth to any repertoire. The school raised funds for a new grand piano, and whoever picked the new piano simply did not know anything about pianos: it was absolutely awful. Slow action, muddy sound, the list goes on. Luckily the old Danemann remained in the corner, and it continued to inspire me.

Fazioli F183 grand piano

This is a bit of naughty inclusion, as Fazioli’s are hideously expensive and rare. Hand made in Italy, they only manufacture a certain number every year, but that extra attention to detail has led to top artists putting their name to Fazioli, most notable Maurizio Pollini. This model however, was in a piano auction in Red Lion Square, London. The cost was probably half of RRP, but still way above my peanut pay package! I was working in London at the time and every three months when the piano auction came round, I would treat myself to an extended lunch break to salivate over the various pianos. It’s a great auction and has something for everyone, so if you are in London during viewing times, go check it out. The Fazioli was probably the star lot, being as rare as they are. It was a wonderful piano, with quite a resonant tone, but capable of some really soft tones as well. The action was of course superb and made anything I played easy. It goes without say that a top piano will not make you play better, but it will make life easier for you……

Yamaha C7 grand piano

There has often been a stereotype about Yamaha grand pianos being used for pop records because they have a brighter tone, and therefore by insinuation, unsuitable for classical music which needs more depth. All I know is that I have seen many a great classical artist play on Yamaha grand pianos that sounded exquisite. No two pianos are the same. Here at the Piano Shop Bath we have a wonderful Yamaha C7 grand piano as the flagship of our hire piano fleet. At over 7 foot it produces the kind of volumes needed for solo recitals in large halls and work with orchestras. I have been able to play this piano as part of the student recitals I hold for my piano students every 3 months. The action is extremely responsive, and of course you have the power to produce real volume when necessary. The tone is deep and sonorous in the bass, with lovely sparkling trebles. For my students, it was a rare chance to play a piano that had all these qualities at their fingertips. Instruments like this have the power to inspire, and for children learning the piano this is an essential quality over anything else.

Kawai K6 upright piano

It is hard to reconcile with an upright piano, the more you play on grand pianos. The action and the way the sound is produced is inherently different between an upright and a grand piano. You start to really hear the difference on the bass notes, where the strings are longer on a grand piano, giving more resonance and depth. And with the lid open that sound is coming straight at you and through the air around. Now and again however, you do find upright pianos that have exceptionally good tone, and the Kawai K6 has long been a favourite of mine here at the Piano Shop Bath. It is a big cabinet upright, so it has the necessary string height advantage for those bass strings. I feel the overall tone is as close as you are going to get in an upright piano, and with the K6 the bass strings are sumptuous in their depth and warmth. The action is extremely good and responsive, with a good amount of depth to the key depression, allowing for real variety in nuance in your playing.

My upright piano!

This is not the greatest piano in the world, but it is definitely one of my favourites. A Dietmann upright, this was manufactured sometime in the 1980’s/1990’s in South Africa. It was picked by my old piano teacher who taught me most of what I know, and the more I play it, the more I realise how good an ear he had. The overall tone is warm but with depth, the bass notes are quite good, and the trebles are sparkly. With a good medium action that responds well to all kinds of hell that I throw at it now, this piano has seen me through my first few notes to the advanced repertoire I play now. And of course, now I am teaching kids on this piano and so it has gone full circle. I suppose the conclusion of this piano was how a sound investment inspired me for years after. I know eventually I will need to buy a grand piano, but I am still very sentimental about this upright piano. In a way, that is something inexplicable that will differ from person to person. That’s why pianists will spend a lifetime trying out different pianos, even if they already have their ‘favourite’ piano at home.

My Diploma Recital

If you are interested in seeing what I have been working on for the last few months, then come along to my diploma preview recital on Thursday 25th June 2015. I will be previewing certain pieces and individual movements from suites that I am working towards, which will form my LTCL diploma program.

The LTCL stands for Licentiate level and is the equivalent of a final year at conservatoire. The exam itself is a 40 minute recital where pieces are simply played back to back. I have chosen quite a demanding program of pieces that I love, which will include:

– Chopin: Etude in E major and Nocturne in D flat major

– Rachmaninoff: Prelude in G minor

– Schoenberg: movement 1 from Klavierstucke

– Ginastera: movements 1 and 2 from Danzas Argentinas

– Bach: Prelude and Fugue in C sharp major

If I get time I may even play a snippet of one of my own compositions!

The recital will take place at Manvers Street Baptist Church, on Manvers Street just up from the train station. The recital will start at 12:30pm and last approximately 40 minutes. There is no entry fee but donations would be extremely welcome and go towards a chosen charity.

Daniel Barenboim Unveils New Piano

I have been reading with interest on Daniel Barenboim’s newly designed piano, which was recently unveiled at the Royal Festival Hall. Daniel Barenboim is a proud owner of a Steinway model D concert grand, and indeed in demonstrating his new piano he had brought along this piano for comparison. So what’s the difference?

The main difference is in the arrangement of the strings across the soundboard. If you peer under the lid of most grand pianos, you’ll find the strings in two tiers, with the lowest strings crossing over on top of the higher strings. In Barenboim’s piano, the strings are all arranged in parallel, straight up the soundboard, with no crossover.

The idea as it happens, is not a new one. Barenboim was inspired by a restored grand piano that belonged to the great virtuoso composer Franz Liszt. Housed somewhere in Siena, Italy, this piano has the same parallel string arrangement, which was a lot more common back then. For Barenboim, the difference was clear and set the wheels in motion for a modern equivalent:

“The transparency and tonal characteristics of the traditional straight-strung instruments is so different from the homogenous tone produced by the modern piano across its entire range. The clearly distinguishable voices and colour across its registers of Liszt’s piano inspired me to explore the possibility of combining these qualities with the power, looks, evenness of touch, stability of tuning and other technical advantages of the modern Steinway.”

It is one thing to dream of such a piano, another thing to build one. Building a Steinway concert grand in itself is an extremely time consuming and expensive process. Barenboim approached Steinway & Sons first with the idea, but they were unable to take it further at the time. However they gave their support to him developing the piano with Belgian instrument maker Chris Maene. 18 months and 4,000 work hours later the piano was ready. You can see in the video below Barenboim demonstrating the new instrument:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbIbaiNdzNs]
For Barenboim, the piano is his new love and he now wants to play everything on it. He followed the new instrument’s unveiling with a series of concerts playing Schubert’s 12 piano sonatas, all on the new instrument. And it appears Barenboim is not alone in his thinking. Pianist Gwendolyn Mok, who plays an 1875 straight-strung Erard piano, has said that such instruments possess superior clarity:

“If you look inside your own piano, you will notice that the strings are all crossing each other…. With the straight strung piano you get distinct registral differences – almost like listening to a choir where you have the bass, tenor, alto, and soprano voices. It is very clear and there is no blending or homogenizing of the sound. It therefore gives you huge opportunities in experimenting with colour.”

There are only two of the new piano in existence, one for Barenboim and one for its creator, Maene. At an approximate cost of double of what a Steinway D would cost to purchase, the future is uncertain for this instrument at a mass market level. But it will clearly renew debate amongst top artists, and it is very easy to see a few more of these appearing in top recording studios for artists in search of something different.

To read more check out this article from the BBC which features further video clips and interviews.

Master Class with Melvyn Tan

I was very proud to have recently taken part in a master class with the great pianist, Melvyn Tan. Melvyn Tan has built an international reputation through his exceptional musicality and promotion of the fortepiano, the predecessor of the modern day piano. The master class was hosted by Wiltshire Music Centre, one of the best music venues in the UK, with a 300-seat concert hall that has excellent acoustics. In addition to a busy program that features numerous internationally acclaimed artists, the centre also holds regular activities for local education and development, including workshops, choral singing sessions and music therapy groups.

Melvyn Tan master class

Melvyn Tan oversees a master class participant on the Steinway concert grand piano

The challenge for participants in the master class was to prepare a piece from Variations for Judith. This is a wonderful collection of short pieces from a variety of modern composers. It was commissioned as a leaving present for Judith Serota, who was Executive Director of the Spitalfields Festival in east London until late 2007. All of the composers featured had either worked with Judith or had a connection to the Festival over the years.

Melvyn Tan master class

Me and Melvyn Tan

The chosen pieces were Ist Bach bei mir by Jonathan Dove, Little Elegy by Richard Rodney Bennett and my chosen piece, Diomedes by Tarik O’Regan. Naturally I was a little nervous at first, but from the minute Melvyn starts working with you on various elements in the music, all the nerves dissipate. He proved to be an excellent teacher and master class leader, giving encouragement and direction in a very personable way. At the end of the guidance section, Melvyn offered us all the chance to play the piece again, incorporating the points he had given us. For my part, the result was very illuminating; my chosen piece now had a lot more musical depth than I thought was possible.

Melvyn Tan master class

Melvyn Tan takes a well deserved bow after an exquisite recital.

The following evening, Melvyn went on to perform an exquisite program of music from Chopin, Liszt, Field, Bach, and of course selections from Variations for Judith. It was a joy to see him perform this challenging repertoire with such expressiveness and musicality. I look forward to seeing him perform again in future and would heartily recommend you to grab a ticket if the opportunity arises.

Variations of Judith can be purchased from most online retailers and music shops, and each book sold makes a contribution to Dimbleby Cancer Care.

The National Jazz Museum in Harlem

At the beginning of March I went on a trip to New York, to visit America for the first time and find out more about a city which I have seen so much of in films and other media. The images everyone has were all there: yellow cabs, the statue of liberty, huge skyscrapers, steam coming out of the pavement. But it was in other parts of Manhattan, especially Harlem, where I gained some fascinating insights.

The street names pay tribute to giants of human endeavour and social progress: Dr Martin Luther King JR, Malcolm X, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Harlem itself is also clearly undergoing transformation; the 110th Street that I heard Bobby Womack sing about was actually a very quiet street with parts overlooking the top end of Central Park. The famous red brown Dutch style buildings are all being renovated and sold/rented for handsome sums.

I dropped by the National Jazz Museum in Harlem on East 126th Street after an internet search of music related things to do. This small museum packs a wealth of resources for the visitor, with a regular programme of talks from leading jazz musicians, all aimed at increasing awareness and participation in Jazz music. On my visit there was an exhibition on the great Cuban pianist Bebo Valdes, whose life and music inspired the Oscar nominated film Chico and Rita.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZTWxB9hRjwI]


There was also the Savory collection, an extensive archive of previously unknown recordings by every jazz great you can think of up to Bebop. Digitized from the original metal records (as opposed to vinyl), I had the pleasure of listening to a couple of my favourites, Django Reinhardt and pianist extraordinaire Art Tatum. I was immediately taken by the quality of these recordings; William Savory had a technical understanding of sound recording that was ahead of its time. To read more about this fascinating archive, follow this link.

In a corner was a rather nice Steinway grand piano, donated to the museum by the late jazz pianist Dick Katz. It is a well used instrument and thankfully, anything but a museum piece. On playing, the core sound was still very good and the high level of craftsmanship of Steinway rang true as ever. I was pleased to find out that the piano is free for visitors to play, a lesson to institutions the world over who try to keep musical instruments as a spectacle rather than the purpose they were built for.

Me and the Steinway

Me and the Steinway at the Jazz Museum in Harlem

Harlem itself was host to numerous small jazz clubs back in the 1920’s and into the 1940’s, making it the place to go in town if you wanted to hear the latest in jazz talent. Wealthy clientele from downtown Manhattan would go uptown to the best clubs, one of dubious reputation being the ‘Cotton Club’. Although all the entertainers were black, black customers were generally barred, resulting in a white only audience. On the flipside, the deliberate targeting of rich white clientele allowed for higher entry and cover charges, which translated in to better pay for the musicians. And one of the greatest regulars to perform here was Duke Ellington and his band. To see his statue on 110th Street today is to understand his contribution to the history of Jazz.

As the decades rolled on, the jazz venues moved downtown into Greenwich village way, leaving only echoes and memories of the scene that used to exist in Harlem. But in a world where Jazz is clearly not mainstream in terms of listening audiences, it is a challenge in itself to keep alive the legacy and art form. Thankfully, right now New York is still alive with Jazz. There are jazz venues all over, from grand places such as the Vanguard and Birdland, to smaller and frequently sold out spots like Smalls (I couldn’t get in when I visited!). New York City easily outstrips London for the sheer number of venues that hosts jazz musicians every night, and it’s easy to see why musicians and listeners still think that this is one of the best places in the world to experience Jazz.

The Joy of 5/4 Time Signature

I recently transcribed the well known theme tune from ‘Mission Impossible’ for one of my students. As part of my piano lessons, I try to let the student guide the direction of study as much as possible. So if there is a piece which not in the usual syllabus or might cost money, I do a quick transcription for them! More often than not, the motivation to learn a piece that a student is familiar with and enjoys listening or singing to, pushes them to overcome slightly more difficult technical challenges that I put in. This is a great way of introducing new musical concepts where standard exam repertoire might not provide.

And so back to Mission Impossible. Although I was aware of the melody, I had never in all my years actually considered the musical construct of the piece. After 10 seconds of listening I knew that this piece was in no regular time signature. Enter the fabled time signature of 5/4! Although complex time signatures are prevalent in jazz, modern classical and progressive rock, in most pop music and indeed the vast body of pre 20th century classical music, complex time signatures such as 5/4 and 7/8 are hardly seen.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QlplayAjM4&w=420&h=315]

There is in my mind a very simple reason for this. The music that we hear on radio and most mainstream media is written in simple time such as 4/4. Simple time easily divides in two and is easily recognised; you can easily nod along to it! In addition, a lot of the music that people dance to in clubs, gigs or anywhere else, is in 4/4 as it is easy to move to. Could we also be drawn to symmetrical things as humans…….

If you listen to 5/4, at first it almost sounds incomplete. It sounds like there is an extra beat added onto a standard measure. Not sure what this sounds like? Listen to the classic telephone ring! The ‘ring, ring’ falls on beats 1 and 2, with a gap on beats 3,4 and 5. Again, this may explain why such time signatures do not feature greatly in lots of pop music. Blues, which is the basis of so much popular music today, is generally written on a 12 bar cycle. And this does not divide equally into five! Four beats in the bar however fits perfectly.

Unsurprisingly, the ‘Mission Impossible’ theme was written by a great composer who was no stranger to both classical and jazz music: Lalo Schifrin. His musical landscape almost defined the films that involved tough leading men who were taking the law into their own hands. In addition to ‘Mission Impossible’, he wrote the themes for ‘Bullit’ and ‘Dirty Harry’. There is no doubt that Lalo’s upbringing in jazz music gave him the creative space to confidently write a major theme tune in 5/4.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DUo9ogmtBoU&w=560&h=315]

But what’s really clever, is that Lalo Schifrin makes 5/4 really groove! No longer does it sound like an extra beat to 4/4, but something punchy with an incessant drive. The ‘trick’ comes with his placement of emphasis on certain beats, in this case the last two, or 3+2. With those rhythmic stabs on the last two, the music is driven along to the next bar and to the pieces’ thrilling climax.

You may be surprised (or not surprised) to hear that songs with complex time signatures are not very favoured by record labels. And I think this comes back to how simple time such as 4/4 can be much more easily followed and more importantly, danced to. The earliest notable stand off with a record company (I probably am hamming up the extent to the disagreement!) was between Dave Brubeck and his then record label, Columbia. Of course, along with ‘Mission Impossible’, Dave Brubeck performed one of the most recognisable and joyous examples of 5/4, the aptly named ‘Take Five’. I have carefully used the word ‘performed’ as it was actually the saxophone player in Dave Brubeck’s quartet, Paul Desmond, who wrote ‘Take Five’. This is such a cool sounding piece of music, and like ‘Mission Impossible’, ‘Take Five’ emphasises the last two beats of the five to drive the piece along.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vmDDOFXSgAs&w=420&h=315]

I also heard once that the artist Sting came into similar disagreements with songs he wrote in complex time signatures. You can hear another great example of 5/4 with Sting’s song, ‘Seven Days’.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pG7_gceIFL4&w=560&h=315]

After hearing this music, you may start to think ‘what’s all the fuss about, 5/4 is a great time signature!’ If so, I would wholly agree. Here is one final piece of popular music that hauntingly and beautifully utilises 5/4. The song is ‘River Man’ by the late great Nick Drake.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idcaRTg4-fM&w=420&h=315]

I would like to add a late addition to this article, for an early use of 5/4 in classical music. Of course it came from that pianist and all round composer extraordinaire, Fryderyk Chopin. His music continues to inspire and show invention years before it became more acceptable.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGnIeGzP7AI&w=420&h=315]

My overriding thought with complex time signatures, especially as a composer, is that if you don’t use it, you lose it. They provide rich grounds for creativity in writing music, while in performing your musical sensibility and rhythmic understanding are greatly expanded. Rewriting something in simple time from 5/4 can also be highly problematic. ‘Take Five’ I don’t think would work without its time signature, it would almost lose it’s musical soul. I think the same about ‘Mission Impossible’, and funnily enough, the rewrite has been done. Have a listen and compare the two: what do you think? My ears are definitely with the original and the joy of 5/4!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAYhNHhxN0A&w=420&h=315]

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QlplayAjM4&w=420&h=315]

Piano Lessons in Bath for 2015

Looking for piano lessons in Bath? Do your children need extra piano tuition in addition to their school lessons? Or maybe you are looking for a new direction and inspiration for your piano playing?

Whatever the reason, get in touch with me today to organise a free introductory piano lesson. In January 2015 I will be going full time with teaching, and so will have many more early afternoon and evening slots available all through the week. I also have availability during the day, so if you are not working 9 – 5 hours, I may have a slot for you.

I teach many pupils at present, from a range of backgrounds and requirements. I have provided extra tuition for students already learning at school, providing alternative directions and ideas where existing tuition is heading into a rut. I also teach adult beginners, some completely from scratch who have always wanted to play but never had the time. It’s a wonderful experience to watch someone develop from nothing to playing a piece of music with both hands confidently.

I also work for The Piano Shop Bath, so I can advise you on getting the best piano for your budget.  And when I am not teaching, I am studying for my own advanced repertoire, as well as writing my own music for concerts. So if you ever want to delve deeper into the music, be it performance, composition, or the history of music, you will get plenty of information from me!

So get in touch today by clicking on the ‘Contact’ tab.

The Student Recital and An Evening of Music

Teaching piano needs to be more than just showing up for lessons. I feel that as a teacher you should always looking for the next opportunity for development, both for your students and yourself. Last weekend saw a double bill of music making at St John’s Church Hall in Bath, featuring a Yamaha C7 grand piano, provided by The Piano Shop Bath. On the Friday there was the student recital. I regularly collaborate with fellow piano teacher Susanna Downes to organise our quarterly student recitals, an important opportunity for students to perform their pieces to an audience. The following day there was also an evening of music performed by Susanna and myself, along with Jon Stabler on Cello and Jennie Mason-Smith on Flute. The following is an account of what turned out to be a wonderful weekend, with many great memories left in my mind.

The Student Recital

The student recitals are a great opportunity for students to develop their performance skills, by learning how to deal with the nerves that inevitably come with playing to an expectant audience. The recitals also provide a setting to play music outside of the family home; unlike most other instruments, the piano is not portable like a violin and so performance opportunities are limited to where there is a suitable piano available.

In sponsoring these student recitals, The Piano Shop Bath provides a top of the range piano that allows the performer to concentrate on their playing, rather than worrying about the piano. The Yamaha C7 is the flagship model of The Piano Shop Bath’s hire fleet, and is regularly hired out for concerts at leading venues across the South West region. It was a real privilege for the performers and the audience, to be provided with such an instrument in a church hall in Bath!

Student Recital at St John's, Bath

Student Recital at St John’s, Bath

As with the previous student recitals, the occasion brought out the best playing in the performers, who ranged from 6 – 17 years in age. As a teacher, it was very heartening to see all of the skills that I had passed on being put into practice: keeping the rhythm, counting and not stopping if there was a mistake! All of this was at the fore, with students instinctively using advice that has been hard wired in them for months and years before! But crucially, there was some great music being made, with even my youngest students finding a place within themselves, to focus and breathe life into their music. This is the biggest challenge when performing to an audience, where you have to be able to do more than simply press the right notes at the right time (was it Bach who said that?).

However it was great to see that all the students were not taking the easy route. Even the shyest of performs transformed once they sat on the piano stool. I think it shows a great level of maturity, especially for a seven year old to go through that process and put on a professional performance that has musicality at the centre. I highly recommend learning an instrument for all children, even if a career in music is not what they want. It compels the performer to dig deep and rely on their own abilities. Self reliance and emotional control are huge factors here, and they are skills that are transferable to any walk of life or professional career. No doubt it can be a real challenge, but I am pleased to say that every student recital that we have held has been exemplary for mature musical performances. As always, I cannot wait for the next one!

Certificates being presented at the Student Recital at St John's, Bath

Certificates being presented at the Student Recital at St John’s, Bath

On a side note, I also stepped up to the plate and gave a first live performance of the Prelude in G minor, by Sergei Rachmaninoff. This piece forms an integral part of my LTCL diploma program, which I am currently preparing for. It is a tricky piece in many aspects, but I wanted to perform something of that level for the students, to provide inspiration and so they can see the full potential of the instrument. ‘See’ being the crucial word here for this piece. Some pieces ‘look’ much easier to play than they are, however the Prelude in G minor looks and is challenging to perform.

Here is a youtube clip of Valentina Lisitsa showing us how it’s done. This went viral and made her world famous:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4QB7ugJnHgs]


You always learn new things when performing, and I realised whilst playing that this piece is a real roller-coaster ride! Once you are on, you can’t really get off. It may of course have moments that feel wobbly (or need more practise!). Yet interestingly, I believe Rachmaninoff wrote this piece in a very logical way. As a composer, I can see a line that goes through the whole piece and gives a clear sense of direction when performing from memory. The jumping chordal sections require precision that leave little room for error, but it is all written in a way that fits to the hands, the mind and the heart. A pleasure to perform.

An Evening of Music

The opportunity of having a great piano and a venue available for the weekend was too good to miss, and so Susanna organized a concert for the following evening. This would feature Susanna and I playing the piano, with great musicians joining us for the evening: Jon Stabler on Cello and Jennie Mason-Smith on Flute. The concert featured inspiring music from Mozart, Mendelsohn and Perilhou, to Oscar Peterson and The Piano Guys. The program had been well arranged by Susanna, with variations in character and colour that clearly moved the audience (some to tears!). Highlights included fiendishly difficult flute playing from Jennie on ‘Ballade’ by Perilhou, while the finale of ‘Going Home’ by The Piano Guys, with Jon on Cello and Susanna on piano, was a fitting end to what had been a great evening of music.

From left to right: Susanna Downes, Jon Stabler and Jennie Mason-Smith, performing at the concert at St John's, Bath

From left to right: Susanna Downes, Jon Stabler and Jennie Mason-Smith, performing at the concert at St John’s, Bath

It was also a chance to perform some of the works I have composed. When I am not teaching, I am writing new music. This music is being written primarily for a trio that includes Jon Stabler on Cello, Susanna Downes on Flute, and myself on piano. It was a very proud moment to perform these pieces, which have had a lot of rehearsal time put in to them. When performing with ensemble, you start to realize the connection you have with your fellow performers. Hearing Jon and Susanna apply all their musicianship to these little pieces I had written was a very touching and proud moment for me. These pieces were recorded live, and you can hear the results by following the link to my soundcloud page.

The Spring Student Recital

This post has been slightly delayed due my hectic teaching schedule, but I have finally grabbed five minutes to report on the wonderful student recital that took place in March. Back in December, I teamed up with Bath-based piano teacher Susanna Downes to organise a recital evening, where our students could play their pieces. You can read about this recital by following this link. It was a thorough success and this spurred Susanna and me to carry  on what we had started!

We decided to hold future recitals on a quarterly basis, to give a sense of momentum to both students and parents. Having these recitals on a regular basis will give the students something regular to work towards outside of music exams. In music exams, a large part of the marks are given to performance, and yet there is little guidance on how to work on this. This is because performing is something you have to do regularly in order to gain experience; you learn how to deal with the inevitable nerves and demands of concentration.

Creating a performance environment is not a simple task. From a teachers’ perspective it is potentially a logistical nightmare. I have tried to compile a to do list, which is not exclusive, and hopefully gives an idea of what is involved:

  1. Find a suitable hall that is large enough, has chairs on site and is easy to access for all your students.
  2. Coordinate with parents to find a suitable date and see if that is available with the hall.
  3. If there is no piano on site, you need to arrange for delivery, removal and tuning of the piano.
  4. Invitations/tickets for the recital and repeated confirmations/reminders with parents to attend!
  5. Arrange Drinks/refreshments.
  6. Arrive a good few hours before doors open to arrange the hall and for a concert performance.

As I mentioned, this is not an exclusive list and you need to be prepared for all the things that might go wrong! We had one or two minor things, but the main aspects of the recital were well prepared for and as a result it went smoothly.

Organising an event like this provides little financial return for the teacher, and requires a great deal of organisation on top of regular teaching commitments. So why did we go to all of this effort? It was, of course, all for the students and their musical development. I still remember getting an unnecessary amount of nerves in music exams, simply because I was not used to performing outside of the exam room. As a consequence, any fun I could have derived from playing the music was diminished, because I was a bundle of nerves.

The only remedy is regular performance practise opportunities, which conditions your mind and body to the unique situation of performing music to an audience. At the heart of our student recitals, we try foster an atmosphere of support from the audience (who are anyway family and friends) giving the student something to feed off and help settle them into the music. When you can do this, you start to enjoy the music and performing to an audience.

St John’s church hall provided the setting; a medium-size hall, with excellent acoustics, and the essential kitchen area for serving tea and squash! We also continued our proud association with The Piano Shop Bath, who sponsored the evening and really spoilt us. The Piano Shop Bath supplied a Yamaha C7 concert grand, professionally delivered by the the delivery team and expertly tuned by Stephen Cooper. You can see from the pictures how good it looks, but more importantly it has an exceptionally balanced action and tone. As a pianist, I can tell you that having a quality instrument beneath your fingers inspires good playing, as you are not wasting effort worrying about certain keys that are getting stuck, or an action which is too heavy for all those delicate passages you spent hours practising. So many thanks once again to The Piano Shop Bath and the team for making this possible for the students.

A performance on the Yamaha C7 grand piano

A performance on the Yamaha C7 grand piano

As performers and families arrived, it quickly became clear that this event was going to be a sell-out! A fantastic turnout ensured rapturous applause for all the players, all of whom excelled in their performances. The occasion was clearly motivating everyone to play their best; I could tell my students had nerves, but they were clearly rising to the occasion and bringing out polished performances. My weekly teaching advise of ‘remember to keep counting’ was definitely being utilised, to my relief. And it was a very proud moment for me, to see students who I had taught from a point of not knowing a piece, to performing in a recital with such confidence. To answer an earlier question, this is why we put in the work to organise the recital.

Certificates being awarded at the Spring Recital

Certificates being awarded at the Spring Recital

All the players were awarded a certificate for their efforts, and seeing those previously nerve-wracked faces replaced by beams of confidence and pride, was a very touching moment. The question soon being asked was, ‘When is the next one?’ Susanna and I have already begun organising the next recital for summer, and I look forward immensely to see how the students have progressed.

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