Category Archives: Uncategorized

How Musical Are You?

This groundbreaking study aims to reveal the musical abilities of the nation and help redefine what it means to be musical. (BBC Lab UK site)

The test, which takes about 25 minutes to complete, comprises questions and listening exercises (for those who have been through the treadmill of graded exams, these will be quite familiar!). It is quite fun – in fact, it is very interesting – and at the end you are presented with a colourful pie-chart indicating your musical awareness, and your scores for the listening games. The test results are being analysed by a team from Goldsmiths’ College, University of London.

I was relieved to find that I scored highly, particularly in categories such as “Enthusiasm for Music”, “Musical Curiosity”, and “Social Creativity”. My aural tests were pretty secure too – a good score for a piano teacher!

To take the test, click on this link.

Less Ambitious Operas

There’s an amusing, silly season thread doing the rounds on Twitter at the moment called “Less Ambitious Operas” (search tag #lessambitiousoperas). Here are some of my favourites (and some of my own):

Boris Not Quite Good Enough

The Love of Two Pears

The Tweets of Hoffman

Flu in Venice

La Spinta Gentile del Destino (The Gentle Push of Destiny)

Dildo and Aeneas

Nixon in China Town

The Semi-Functional Flute

Einstein on the Couch


The Floor Sweeper of Seville

Orpheus in the Cupboard Under the Stairs

The Mild Embarrassment of Faust

The One-Penny Melody

The One Night Stand of Figaro

The Turn of the Corkscrew

I could go on (and on)……….but I won’t. Plenty more on Twitter, or add your own in the comments box.

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould

“I believe that the only excuse we have for being musicians is to make it differently” – Glenn Gould

Whatever you may think about Canadian pianist Glenn Gould – genius, nutcase, eccentric – his life remains fascinating, partly because he was at once both enigmatic and open. He was extremely articulate about his music, as well as many other subjects, including art, poetry and philosophy, yet his interior life remains clouded by his eccentricities: the pills,  the scarves, the funny chair his dad made for him. This new film attempts to go beyond all the myths and misconceptions, and, from what I can tell from the official trailer, will be as insightful, perhaps more so, as Bruno Monsaingeon’s wonderful 2006 film ‘Hereafter’.

For North American readers, you can access the film online until 11 January here. For the rest of us, for the time being there is the official trailer, and then the release of this award-winning and highly-praised film on DVD in the UK in late March (pre-order from Amazon).

Genius Within – official website of the film

Bruno Monsaingeon’s website

The 12 Days of Mozart

Radio 3 is currently revelling in a major Mozart-fest, by broadcasting “every note he wrote” between now and January 12th. It has been a pleasure to tune in intermittently during the day and hear excerpts from his operas, choral works, symphonies, piano music, chamber music, and much more, reminding us of his immense and varied output, and in yesterday’s Breakfast show (presented by Rob Cowan), listeners were treated to a truly wonderful live performance by the Heath Quartet of the Divertimento in D major, K.136, which surely is a first for the Breakfast programme. (You can find a full programme listing and listen again here)

Other delights include Play Mozart for Me, a late-night request programme presented by Sarah Mohr-Pietsch. Listeners are invited to send in their requests, and to write to Sarah with thoughts on their favourite Mozart pieces, or why Mozart is important to them, or indeed any other personal ‘Mozartiana’. There are lunchtime concerts, evening performances, blogs and forums – and there is even a Mozart Mash-up where you can download 20 Mozart fragments, and create your own 60 second “mash up” (I am downloading the material as I write – just for fun). The best clips will be broadcast (and if my own mash up is successful, I will add a soundclip to this blog).

All this Mozart-mania suggests that “Wolfie” remains perennially popular, and Radio 3’s plethora of programmes and related articles, videos, blogs, interviews seems a great way to encourage more people to discover him. Many of us had our first encounters with his music as young children or novice students. Some of his earliest, most youthful piano pieces (many of which were written before he’d reached his teens) appear in the syllabuses of the early graded music exams, and I am sure most of us can recall a Fantasia or Sonata or two which we learnt when we were more advanced pianists.

While Mozart may be master of the Classical period, Franz Liszt, the bicentenary of whose birth is celebrated this year, is undoubtedly king of the Romantics. Let us hope Radio 3 finds a way to celebrate this all too-often misunderstood and under-represented composer with similar panache and enthusiasm.

For more on Radio 3’s Genius of Mozart season click here.

My life according to music….

I promise I will write a serious post just as soon as my holiday is over!

Describe yourself:

Impossible Dreamer (Joni Mitchell)

Describe where you live:

Greenways (John Ireland, from Three Lyric Pieces)

This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody) (Talking Heads)

How do you feel?

I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself (The White Stripes)

If you could go anywhere, where would it be?

L’Isle Joyeuse (Debussy)

Venezia e Napoli (Lizst, Annees de Pelerinage)

Road to Somewhere (Goldfrapp)

China Gates (John Adams)

Your favourite form of transport?

Riders on the Storm (The Doors)

Perpetuum Mobile (Penguin Cafe Orchestra)

Autobahn (Kraftwerk)

What’s the weather like?

Here Comes the Rain Again (Eurythmics)

Jardins sous la pluie (Debussy)

The Morning Fog (Kate Bush)

Your fear?

Only Love Can Break Your Heart (St Etienne)

Erlkonig (Schubert)

The best advice you have to give?

Don’t Look Back In Anger (Oasis)

Be Yourself (Morcheeba)

Thought for the day?

Wachet Auf [“Sleepers, Wake!”] (J S Bach)

How would you like to die?

Nightswimming (REM)

Your soul’s present condition?

I Still Miss Someone (Johnny Cash)

My life in literature

Holiday season stuff this – what my fellow-blogger and kindred literary spirit Somewhere Boy calls a “blog meme” because it is based on someone else’s entry. I admit it exercised my brain as I watched the snow falling outside the chalet – and it’s proof that it IS possible to blog from an iPhone!! Readers, please feel free to respond with your own literary profile. I’m working on a musical version of the same questionnaire….

Happy holidays!

My life according to literature

Describe yourself:
The Piano Teacher (Joachim Neugroschel)
Anne of Green Gables (L M Montgomery)
The Good Plain Cook (Bethan Roberts)
Jezebel (Irene Nemirovsky)

Describe where you live:
A Room With A View (E M Forster)
Notting Hell (Rachel Johnson)

How do you feel?
I Don’t Know How She Does It (Alison Pearson)
I Feel Bad Talking About My Neck (Nora Ephron)

If you could go anywhere, where would it be?
Amsterdam (Ian McEwen)
Mansfield Park (Jane Austen)
Homecoming (Bernhard Schlink)

Your favourite form of transport?
Riding the Iron Rooster (Paul Theroux)

Your best friend is:
The Sheltering Sky (Paul Bowles)

You and your friends are:
The Jane Austen Book Club (Karen Joy Fowler)
Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood (Rebecca Wells)

What’s the weather like?
Snow Falling on Cedars (David Guterson)

Your fear?
Touching the Void (Joe Simpson)

The best advice you have to give?
Goodbye to All That (Robert Graves)
Persuasion (Jane Austen)

Thought for the day?
Music & Silence (Rose Tremain)

How would you like to die?
Dancing Backwards (Salley Vickers)
To Heaven by Water (Justin Cartwright)

Your soul’s present condition?
I Drink Therefore I Am (Roger Scruton)
Restless (William Boyd)

The Cross-Eyed Pianist is on holiday….

I am currently away, in the French Alps, enjoying mountain scenery and fresh air – oh, and a drop of skiing too. While I’m away, check out this record label:

Orchid Classics

High-end production, high-end design and an interesting group of artists and music.


From the blurb on their website:

Orchid Classics was founded in 2005 by violinist Matthew Trusler, with the goal of producing artist-focused recordings of the highest quality and artistic interest. Since its launch, Orchid has achieved widespread media coverage including features in magazines such as Time Out, extensive radio airplay in the UK and abroad, and superlative reviews in all major publications from music magazines to broadsheets.

The End of the Year

My teaching term finished at 4.45pm today as I saw the last student, Tom, out of my warm, cosy home into the cold, dark, snowy evening. I pressed a giant chocolate coin from M&S into his gloved hand, and cheerily wished him and his mother a Happy Christmas, while also reminding him to practice over the holiday. Officially, my teaching term (which runs for 12 weeks) ended last week, but I had to cancel some lessons and carry them over from last week.

Now, I am afforded an opportunity to review the term just ended and look forward to the spring term. As always, it has been a busy term: there has been much music made, new pieces learnt, old ones revised and finessed. I’ve sat through hours of scales and other technical work, done a fair amount of pre-exam hand-holding (mostly of anxious parents rather than students), and talked endlessly about “telling the story” and “painting pictures” in music. The hugely successful Christmas concert marked the culmination of the term and was a wonderful tribute to my students’ hard work this term – and mine too! Three students took the Prep Test, a pre-Grade 1 “taster” exam, five are working towards Grade 1, including two of my adult students, and three are working on the Grade 2 syllabus. I am enjoying teaching the exam syllabuses, as the current crop of pieces are varied and interesting: why weren’t the exam lists this interesting when I was taking my music exams, way back when….?

Particular highlights include: Eli playing my adaptation of Pachelbel’s ‘Canon in D’, a piece he chose himself, and which he played with real panache and surprising depth for an 8 year old; Claire, a student who has really blossomed this term, playing ‘Walking In The Air’ at the Christmas concert; Harrison’s improvised ‘Vampire Blues’ (“but please don’t do that in your exam!” I warned), Bella’s lovely, measured reading of Bach’s Prelude No. 1 in C; Tom’s ‘Chinese Crackers’, one of his Prep Test pieces which utilises the piano’s harmonics in a clever way; and Marianne’s ‘Snowdrifts’, a piece which seems particularly appropriate given the current weather!

As for my own music, I have put to bed, for the time being at least, Debussy’s Prelude ‘Voiles’, after performing it in my Christmas concert. Listening to the recording was a mixed experience: despite all the plaudits I received from friends, parents, students and family on the day, I feel there is plenty of room for improvement. A pause from this piece will help me reappraise it and think about what else I need to do with it. Meanwhile, I am making interesting inroads into Messiaen’s 4th Vingt Regard, a deeply arresting piece which requires a huge amount of emotional input (the notes themselves are not so difficult), and the Toccata from Bach’s 6th Partita, which is cerebral and satisfying (the scores are in my suitcase to read in France, together with my fold-out keyboard to enable me to mark up the rest of the Messiaen properly). The Chopin Ballade continues to haunt me – in a good way – but it is on the backburner while I try to get as much Diploma repertoire into my fingers: 2011 could be the year I take the exam, or not, depending on how I get on….

The Spring term will see three students sit their Grade 1 exam, and at the end of the term I will attend my teacher’s advanced piano course again, where I hope present more of my diploma repertoire. I will also rise to my teacher’s challenge, and play Chopin’s Etude Opus 10 No. 3 at the end of course concert.

For the time being, I am looking forward to a couple of weeks “off” (though not off the piano, of course), and a chance to catch up on some reading and listening.

Merry Christmas to all my readers, some loyal and regular, others casual and occasional. The Cross-Eyed Pianist will return after the holiday.

Cage Against the Machine

I’ve just lent my support, via Facebook, to this, the latest crusade to keep a Simon ‘X-Factor’ Cowell-manufactured pop warbler or here-today-gone-tomorrow boyband off the Christmas No. 1 spot. Last year, a campaign spearheaded by a Facebook group ensured the rap metal band Rage Against the Machine successfully claimed the Christmas No. 1 place, thereby nudging Simon Cowell’s protégé, the forgettable Joe McElderry (where is he now?!) off the top spot.  I also lent my support to last year’s campaign – because I loathe programmes like the X-Factor, and reserve even more opprobrium for Simon Cowell, whose main motivation, it seems to me, is to further line his already bulging pockets with millions of pounds

This issue interests me for several reasons: the first, that it demonstrates the power of social networking, something I had avoided like the plague until about two years ago when I discovered that Facebook was quite useful for staying in touch with friends abroad, former lovers, old work colleagues, and friends who are too busy to meet for coffee and a catch up chat now and then. On a more serious level, the recent student protests against the rise in tuition fees have demonstrated how thousands of people can be mobilised through the use of social networking sites. At the most recent protest, even the police were using Twitter to stay up to the minute with what was happening.

Secondly, it just goes to show that there are still plenty of free-thinking, free-listening people out there who can see that everything Simon Cowell produces is manufactured, ersatz, false and without integrity and staying power. How many previous X Factor winners have stayed the course of more than a year in the “industry”? Can you name any previous winners, or identify them if they graced the glossy pages of ‘Hello!’? Probably not. As fluffy, pointless, manufactured “stars”, they are a 9-day wonder, quickly forgotten when the next series begins and the attention shifts to another group of hopeful contenders.

There are some scary statistics associated with the X Factor too, aside from the vast sums Cowell is making from it. Apparently, tonight’s final is predicted to achieve 20 million viewers, and – this is even more alarming – more people vote in the X Factor than voted in the general election. Of course, the only winner is Simon Cowell. (Maybe, as a friend of mine suggested on the ‘phone earlier today, our politicians should consider fighting the next election along X-Factor lines? This might ensure a bigger turn out and a more entertaining election campaign!)

I have always called programmes like the X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, Strictly Come Dancing, Big Brother, and all the others that have gone before, “neo-opiates of the people”. Chewing gum for the brain, which require little effort, are largely unoffensive and mildly entertaining (except for Big Brother which is a freak show – like looking at the loonies in the asylum in the 18th century). I am constantly surprised at the number of apparently intelligent, free-thinking, culturally aware friends of mine who subscribe to and actively participate in (i.e. by voting) these mush-for-the-brain programmes. Fortunately, most of my friends know me well enough by now not to mention these programmes in my presence! (And I suspect they regard me as a dreadful intellectual snob because of my avoidance of such programmes and my passionate devotion to classical music…. but that’s another discussion!)

A couple of Sunday mornings ago, on Radio 4’s ‘Broadcasting House’ programme, Norman Lebrecht raged against the gaping maw of the machine that is Simon Cowell’s music manufacturing industry, claiming, as I do, that these programmes are unchallenging and pointless, which kill real creativity and originality, and turn pop music into karaoke (look closely on the X Factor and it is obvious that the singers mime). The power of Cowell is such that other, possibly far better acts are never given a look-in, and these Instant Whip “stars” suggest that pop success and celebrity is easily-won, without the many hours of training, study and discipline that real musicians – be they pop, jazz, world or classical – must undergo to achieve longevity and recognition.

All this positing begs two questions: what makes a truly great performer? and who can be expected to judge? I don’t know the answer to either of these questions, but what I do know is that many people are sick of Simon Cowell’s influence, and are actively and vociferously sending him the message, via campaigns like Cage Against the Machine, ‘I won’t do what you tell me’.

As for Cage Against the Machine, this is a campaign to get John Cage’s seminal, conceptual “silent masterpiece” 4’33” into the Christmas No. 1 spot this year as a protest against Simon Cowell’s ongoing manipulation of pop culture. Tonight, thousands of people around the world will take time out of their Sunday evening to perform their own version of Cage’s post-classical masterpiece, or to simply contemplate its purity and simplicity. You can find out more about it, sign up for the newsletter, or join the Facebook group by going to

Read Norman Lebrecht’s article in today’s Telegraph.

And don’t forget to set your watch tonight to enjoy your own performance of 4’33″!