Memories

Opening the new Grade 2 piano study book yesterday to check out the repertoire for the 2010-11 season, the name Felix Swinstead leapt off the page at me, and took me straight back to Mrs Scott’s pink and mauve piano room in Sutton Coldfield, circa 1973. I remember learning quite a few pieces by Swinstead as a young piano student, and Felix Gerald Swinstead is one of those composers, like Dunhill and Markham Lee, that those of us who learned the piano as children associate with our early studies. Many of his pieces were studies, or genre pieces,  easy enough for children from about Grade 1 onwards, with winsome titles like ‘Cornfields’, ‘In a Playful Mood’, ‘Day Dream’, ‘Masquerade’, ‘A Tender Flower’ and ‘Malvern Hills’, and evoke a pre-war golden time. ‘In a Playful Mood’ rings a bell with me: I probably played it when I was six or seven, and I probably didn’t enjoy it that much as my then teacher had a tendency to make me play the same piece week after week, until I was bored witless with it.

Recently, returning to Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, I opened my old ABRSM edition and saw another teacher’s annotations, including her diagrams explaining the construction of the fugue form (Sue Murdoch, Rickmansworth, circa 1980-1985). It brought a great rush of memories and nostalgia: of cycling to her house for my lessons, of playing her grand piano with a dog across my feet and a cat staring at me from the lid, of exams taken in the studio of a local professional pianist (a room devoid of all furniture except for the vast black Minotaur of a Steinway), and of being told off by her husband (a prof at the RAM, who was scarily tall with a huge booming voice) for saying I was about to play “only some Beethoven” (it was the Sonata Op 10/i).

I like to think my students will enjoy similar reminiscences of their lessons with me when they are grown up. What will they remember, I wonder….?