Piano lessons in Bath

Category: Uncategorized (Page 2 of 3)

Piano Restoration Video

I was very proud to have recently put together a short film about piano restoration work at The Piano Shop Bath. Ever since relocating to Bath some four years ago I have maintained a strong relationship with this great shop that caters for all needs and budgets. ‘Shop’ is a small word for a much bigger business that The Piano Shop Bath represents. In addition to selling pianos they provide piano removals services, piano tuning, event hire, valuations and of course, piano repairs and restoration services. Over four years I have watched the shop develop and expand into a much larger premises, creating a substantial workshop space. This workshop is now the hub through which all pianos are serviced and restored.

Piano Restoration is a job that requires patience and years of experience. I was asked to create a short film that captures the essence of what this work was about, and to convey the craft that is behind every piano repair. I had the pleasure of observing technicians Marc and Steve while filming them about their work. I was amazed by how traditional the repair work still was, even with modern tools to aid them. Applying woollen felts to the dampers is essentially still glueing bits of high quality felt to wooden hammers, but it needs to be precise and the glue needs to be the right type that works naturally with the wood. If you choose to invest in having your piano restored, you are not just investing in your instrument but also investing in the expertise of highly skilled technicians who carry out the work. It is a specialist craft, and pianos simply could not exist without good piano technicians.

You can check out the video below. I composed some original backing music to aid the flow of imagery, using piano based sounds arranged in a contemporary, fresh setting. If you would like to know more about the video or my composition work, then please do get in touch.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDjPRXINRuY&w=640&h=360]

Piano Concerts in Bath

In preparation for my upcoming diploma exam, I will be performing in a few piano recitals in Bath to road test my program to audiences. This is a vital component of any exam preparation, as you really find out what works under pressure, and what doesn’t! Sections of music that you may think you know inside out in the comfort of your rehearsal studio, may suddenly become more tricky. Technically demanding passages (for which there are a few on this program) require a degree of stamina, and a practise recital gives you the chance to see how well you are pacing yourself over the program.

Most importantly, you get the chance to see how well you can sustain the levels of concentration required to execute piece after piece. That in itself is not just a technical exercise, but an emotional one too, where you need to be in that mental space to shape something musically interesting and personal. It is no good simply playing the right notes at the right time, that is the job of a computer!

My program is a musically diverse program spanning some 300 years of writing for the piano, and earlier keyboard instruments. This is also a chance to convey some of the musical developments that have been made over the centuries, from Bach’s highly ordered fugal exercises, to Schoenberg’s atonal soundscapes. And don’t worry if you are clueless who those composers are; I will be there as your guide to introduce each piece and give some background to its composition. There will be something new for everyone, so come along!

The Program

Chopin: 2 études from Op. 10, No.1 in C major and No.3 in E major

JS Bach: Prelude and Fugue in C sharp major, BWV 872

Rachmaninoff: Prelude in G minor, Op. 23 no.5

Schoenberg: Drei Klavierstucke, Op.11

Chopin: Nocturne in D flat major, Op. 27 no.2

Ginastera: Danzas Argentinas, Op. 2

The Venues

Thursday 5 May @ Manvers Street Baptist Church, 12:30pm

Wednesday 15 June @ St Swithin’s Church, 7:30pm

More dates to be added.

If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to get in touch via my contact page.

Piano Lessons in Bath for 2016

It was a busy end to 2015 and I was heavily involved in a number of tasks which saw me go off the blog radar a bit….. but all for worthy reasons!

Several of my students took piano exams and passed with great marks and comments from the examiner. There is still a wide differing of opinion amongst students, parents and teachers over the benefits of taking piano exams. The truth is, it depends on the individual. All I can say is that those who do commit themselves to taking an exam are giving themselves an opportunity to work towards something and gain valuable experiences from performing under pressure. Passing and getting a good mark has given all my students a renewed sense of confidence and purpose in their playing, which is sometimes easy to lose track of when you turn up to weekly lessons to practise the same three pieces.

In addition, the grade system does introduce new technical challenges with every step up, so there is a practical element there to progress your studies. All in all a very worthwhile endeavour for any piano student; I must also emphasise that I had an adult student pass with a great mark, so don’t talk yourself into thinking that piano grades are something you did when you were younger! You may find that your life is now allowing you the time to practise and you yourself are more focussed to practise the technical elements to perfection. It’s never too late 🙂

I was also involved in providing piano accompaniment for a colleague’s students taking flute and clarinet exams. This is extremely rewarding work, as you can take a step back as a teacher and focus on performing with someone. It’s amazing how much progress you see even between the rehearsal a few weeks before the exam, to the actual day itself. As a teacher, it’s easy to spot determination and hard work when it has been applied. It’s also easy to spot the combination of relief and delight, with having played better than your fears were telling you that you would. Personal development like this is, I believe, absolutely fundamental to any child’s education, and by learning a musical instrument you are forced into developing your skills, otherwise the music simply will not happen.

There was also a small matter of purchasing my first house. They say that the most stressful experience you can have in life is purchasing a house, and all I would say in response is that I wholeheartedly agree! But I can least look back on that process as something firmly in the past.

The new place only a few minutes from where I was previously living and easy to get to from London Road in Bath. There is also now a dedicated teaching studio which provides the right environment for practise and study. I still one or two slots available in the evening, plus more availability during the day, so if you are looking for piano lessons in 2016, get in touch with me here.

Sunset Fan/Sunset Flood Premiere in Bath

I have finally had a chance to write something about the premiere of my new work, Sunset Fan/Sunset Flood, which premiered at the end of August in Bath. It was a magical evening that I will remember for a long time. I have included here an extract of the blog from my composition site, and the live recording from the concert. Enjoy and please take a moment to visit my composition website and read the full blog.

‘Sunset Fan/Sunset Flood is a suite in 4 movements for piano and cello, inspired by the words of writer James Roy Blair Anderson. I have previously collaborated with James on ‘Dust‘, a short choral piece set to the words of his poem of the same title. This time, I took two of James’ poems, ‘Sunset Fan‘ and ‘Sunset Flood‘, and composed a musical depiction of the words.

The final suite can be performed both with or without the words being read in between the movements. In rehearsals for the concert we decided to read the poetry in between each movement, and I think the overall experience was truly heightened.

My musical partner in crime for this was cellist Jonathan Stabler, an experienced musician who revels in the challenges of performing new music. In addition to my new piece, we put together a program of music that included a diverse range of repertoire for cello and piano, with duets and solo pieces respectively.

This program would take the audience on a musical journey from the Baroque period to present day. We had put in a lot of work in rehearsals and of course the admin and promotion that’s required for putting on a concert! We were very lucky to have in Bath St Swithin’s church in Walcott. A 5 minute walk from the centre of town, this beautiful example of Georgian church architecture also happens to have excellent acoustics and a very fine Yamaha G5 grand piano. Simply not having to worry about the hire of a grand piano was a massive relief, and to find that the piano was also very nice to play, takes even more stress off you as a performer.’

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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.

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