Autumn Piano Course

Stephen, one of the students on the course

Another excellent weekend on Penelope Roskell’s Advanced Piano course – my fifth course run by my teacher. Three friends were there, including Stephen Gott, who I met nearly three years ago on the first course we both attended. (Stephen has just entered his second year at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.) With a total of just six students, instead of the more usual eight, there was plenty of time for discussion and appreciation of the repertoire we all brought to the course, to play and to share: it was supportive and inspiring. The standard of playing is usually pretty high, which means we get to enjoy quality music, every day.

I have blogged before about how useful I find my teacher’s courses: the small number of students (a maximum of eight to allow plenty of participation), the intimate setting (the course takes place in the spacious sitting room of Penelope’s home) and the (reasonably) relaxed end of course concert on the Sunday afternoon make for an atmosphere that is both stimulating, challenging and friendly. By Sunday, when we’ve all got to know each other better, the atmosphere is relaxed and we often spend the time simply playing music for one another. Sometimes all we need as pianists is to play for others. Helen Burford, a pianist based in Brighton, whom I’ve met a couple of times on these courses, and I even played a suite of tiny duets for beginner students, bringing a touch of elan to each miniature, to the accompaniment of laughter from our fellow students.

By the third day, people are transformed by the experience and someone who may have said at the outset that there is no way they are playing in the concert, feels secure enough to perform. And this, for me, is the major benefit of the course, to give confidence to nervous or shy performers, and to bring out the very best in people through gentle yet focused tutoring.
The course is organised as a series of masterclasses, and begins each morning with yoga-based exercises especially devised for pianists to help loosen shoulders and back, and warm up arms and hands, legs and feet. Everyone gets the chance to play at least once every day, and students can select when in the day they would like to play – some people prefer to play early on “to get it over with” and then sit back and enjoy others playing through the day. We take our lunch in the garden if the weather is fine, or in the conservatory, our musical conversations accompanied by the squeaking of the pet guinea pigs!

I took Liszt’s Sonetto 104 del Petrarca and Mozart’s Rondo in A minor to the course. Both pieces form part of my LTCL Recital programme and I really just wanted to put them before a small audience for some feedback. The Mozart in particular was very well-received, which was most gratifying since I’ve spent such a long time with this piece – playing it, studying it and reading about it. I also played it in the end of course concert.

Another lovely aspect of these courses is the great variety of repertoire one can encounter. Helen always brings interesting pieces, this time ranging from Bach to Chick Corea. On Saturday afternoon, at the very end of the day, she played the evocative Lotus Land by Cyril Scott, a piece we had both, coincidentally, heard, and liked, on the Radio Three recently. It has echoes of Delius, Debussy and Satie. We also enjoyed music by Chopin, Beethoven, Debussy, Haydn, Schumann, Shostakovich, Brubeck, and Vask. Hear a selection of the music we played here:

Autumn Piano Course (a Spotify playlist)

Live performances:

For more information about Penelope Roskell’s advanced piano courses and workshops for pianists and piano teachers, please visit http://www.peneloperoskell.co.uk/