Piano lessons in Bath

Tag: Piano Shop Bath

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]

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.

Student Recital at The Piano Shop Bath

I recently teamed up with fellow piano teacher Susanna Downes to hold a piano recital for our students. Susanna and I talked about the possibility of combining our students for recitals, as it provides a greater opportunity for interaction and helps to boost numbers at times of the year when not everyone can participate. Our main issue was finding a reasonably priced venue and piano for hire, taking into consideration that it would be a small number of students.

I work weekend shifts at The Piano Shop Bath, and I had been trying to see if there was a way we could hold some kind of interactive event at the showroom. The basement of the shop had recently be opened and refurbished into a showroom, and I started to think of it as a possible venue for the recital. It has the advantage of being well located on the London Road into Bath and of course, having a piano for performance is no issue! My manager Jon was on board from the start and provided full support with tuning, moving pianos to make space, and canapés! I should also give a very notable mention to Father Peter Edwards from nearby St John’s Church, who allowed us to borrow some chairs for the recital.

Once the chairs were set up we knew that the basement showroom would have the right kind of intimate yet supportive atmosphere needed for the students. As some of my younger students arrived I could see there were a few nerves, but having family there for support undoubtedly gave them the courage they needed to play their pieces. We had eight students in all between us, playing a range of pieces from beginner to intermediate levels. All of the students made parents and teachers proud, excelling in understandably nerve racking conditions, and putting in some really musical performances. At the end all the students were presented with a certificate for their excellent efforts.

Student Recital 30/11/2013

Student Recital 30/11/2013

The evening was a thorough success. Susanna and I look forward to continuing the collaboration with The Piano Shop Bath, providing more regular opportunities for students to perform their music. Student recitals tend to fall at the end of the Summer school term, being a natural point in the academic year to have a concert. Many students will also have recently taken their music exam around this time. And yet for the rest of the year, performance opportunities are few in number.

The logistics of setting up an environment where students can play to a willing audience, are more difficult than one initially assumes. Simply finding a reasonable-sized space with a decent piano can be challenging, and then organising the various friends and family to turn up can be a huge task in itself! So the opportunity The Piano Shop Bath provides for Susanna and me is of immeasurable help. Performance skills can seldom be taught; you have to gain experience and learn to work with the natural reactions your body and mind go through. Ironically there is little guidance from exam boards on how to approach a musical performance, yet an exam will allocate nearly two thirds of the marks precisely on performance. The best way is through regular performances, with support from teacher, family and friends.

If you know you have an exam coming up it is highly advisable to have at least two or three practice runs with an audience. Even if you make mistakes, you will be preparing your mind and body for how to deal with them and keep going unaffected. You will also get better at acclimatizing yourself for being under observation. Remember, there are very few audiences that will be looking for mistakes, they are always willing you to play at your best. So relax (as much as possible!) and give yourself to the instrument and the music: the rest will fall in to place.

Click here for a link to The Piano Shop Bath

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