Piano Notes – Peter Bispham

bisphamHow long have you been playing the piano? 

I started when I was about six years old or thereabouts, but gave it up when I went off to study Physics at University. Coming back to music years later was tricky at first but I seemed to get the hang of it again. I doubt the same would be true if I ever went back to Physics.

What kind of repertoire do you enjoy playing, and listening to? 

It might sound shallow, but I like a tune you can whistle. I tend to stick to solo piano works and I’ve always particularly liked Liszt and Debussy. If I’m honest there’s a lot of the standard repertoire that does little for me, which is useful really as I haven’t the time to learn all of it! Away from piano music I love to listen to a good singing voice, but dislike the tendency I hear in some singers to embellish absolutely every note.

How do you make the time to practise? Do you enjoy practising? 

Normally I find time here and there when I can. If there’s something on the horizon my family help me find the time to practise more and I’m very grateful to them. I find short bursts of practice are great for polishing pieces but I need longer sessions when learning new repertoire in order to actually get anywhere. My piano is digital so I can practice at unsociable hours using headphones, although a former neighbour once mentioned the strange late-night clunking sound of the keys going down ‘silently’. I enjoy practising if I’m in the mood and not too tired. If I’m not enjoying it I do it anyway.

Have you participated in any masterclasses/piano courses/festivals? What have you gained from this experience? 

Plenty! Masterclasses have ranged in value from total wastes of everyone’s time right up to unforgettably inspiring experiences. On the high-quality end of the scale we have sessions with the late Yonty Solomon which were an absolute joy, and also Martin Roscoe, Noriko Ogawa and my present teacher Jeremy Siepmann.

I recommend the Chetham’s Summer School very highly. If you’ve ever wondered whether there are other people on the planet like you, there are and they all descend on Manchester once a year. Chetham’s has just opened a stunning new music building with a lovely footbridge leading to the old school. It looks like a spaceship has landed and lowered its gangplank.

If you are taking piano lessons what do you find a) most enjoyable and b) most challenging about your lessons? 

Jeremy makes me concentrate so very hard! It’s challenging, but in a good way. The most enjoyable part is invariably leaving his house with a headful of ideas. We both wish we could meet more frequently than we do.

Do you perform? What do you enjoy/dislike about performing? 

I try to enter amateur piano competitions from time to time as a means to get myself on a stage somewhere. There are so many of them now. I get emails about events in Warsaw, Boston, Vienna, Berlin etc but I could never enter them all.

I’ve been to the Paris competition a couple of times some years back and am returning this year (2013). Even turning up will be a major achievement as I’ve acted as an unofficial sponsor of theirs for the last few years by paying the application fee then not turning up. They should dedicate one of their piano keys to me… perhaps one of those that I missed when they last heard me.

The competition is imminent and if anyone wants to follow my progress I’m sure I’ll have the time to tweet while I’m there. Follow @peterbispham

If you could play one piece, what would it be? 

I try not to hold up any single piece as “the unattainable dream”. I find that if a piece is very technically demanding it also has to massively appeal to me as a piece of music or I get bored of it by the time it’s in my fingers. There are some very difficult pieces that I think are just not worth the effort, though perhaps I’d feel differently if I practised eight hours a day.

What advice would you give to other adults who are considering taking up the piano or resuming lessons? 

It’s never too late. That’s a phrase I use a lot about a number of things. If it’s what you want to do then set yourself a goal and go for it.

Jeremy and his wife bought me Alan Rusbridger’s book Play it Again for Christmas. Although I haven’t read it yet, it looks very interesting and potentially inspirational to adult amateurs. Perhaps I’ll read it on the train to Paris…

Peter started piano at around age six, taking lessons in his home town of Rainhill from esteemed local teacher Raymond Murray, who had studied with both Gordon Green (Royal Northern College of Music) and Douglas Miller, a pupil of Godowsky.

Choosing to read physics at university and follow a technically-oriented career path, piano study fell largely by the wayside as Peter attained a degree and PhD in physics. On leaving academia he started piano study once more, gaining his Licentiate Diploma in Music Performance (LRSM) in 2003.

Since 2005 he has been fortunate enough to study with internationally acclaimed writer, musician, teacher and broadcaster Jeremy Siepmann, who Peter credits with having transformed his approach to playing the piano.

For more information about Peter, please visit his website.