At the Piano With……Fiona Lau

Fiona Lau

What is your first memory of the piano?

In assembly at school we marched in and out to a lovely lady playing a variety of marches on a battered piano. My parents then bought one and as I was the eldest I got to have piano lessons first! I remember being enchanted by fingers flying over keys and the variety of sounds the piano made.

Who or what inspired you to start teaching?

Originally I was a class teacher in secondary schools, but with the birth of my children gave that up and then a friend asked me to teach her children. After a while (private teaching and peri teaching) I thought I had better do it properly and so I enrolled on the CTABRSM course. It opened my eyes and I learnt to teach not just as I had been taught but as appropriate for each pupil.

Who were your most memorable/significant teachers?

My first teacher was Miss Charlesworth; she had a beautiful house and a fabulous piano- I think that was part of the attraction. At Huddersfield I had Ronald Newton and he dragged me up from a passable grade 8 to a secure diploma standard. He gave me a sound technique and a great view of the piano repertoire. In later life I had lessons from Tim Carey who made lessons such fun and imbued me with excitement and enjoyment about playing. Tim also taught me to be friends with my pupils and do more than “just teach”.

Who or what are the most important influences on your teaching?

Richard Crozier at ABRSM for his calm, erudite but humorous approach. Tim Carey for his holistic approach and my many colleagues who are generous enough to share their ideas.

Most memorable/significant teaching experiences?

As a peripatetic teacher, I taught a boy who was in set 5 (nearly the lowest set) but who had a desire and talent for playing the piano. We progressed to grade 6 practical and grade 5 theory and he then went on to complete a degree in music followed by a PGCE and is now a music teacher. That experience is more important to me than the grade 8 distinctions and it taught me to always keep an open mind.

What are the most exciting/challenging aspects of teaching adults?

It’s exciting because they want to learn. Challenging because they have more life experience, more music experience, more baggage and often greater expectations.

What do you expect from your students?

Commitment, enjoyment and a have a go attitude. I can’t bear it if someone won’t try!

What are your views on exams, festivals and competitions?

Hmm, mixed. They suit some pupils and not others so I take the individual and work out, with them, what is best for their development.

What are you thoughts on the link between performing and teaching?

I am pretty sure that an effective piano teacher will perform – if not at the Wigmore Hall every week – at least in the lessons they teach! Pupils learn so much by demonstration and modelling; sometimes words are just not enough. However I also know that when I perform, whether it’s accompanying exams,playing in recitals, a concert or at a wedding, my teaching about performance has much more veracity and integrity. I can say “when I played last week, I did feel nervous but some deep breaths and focussing on the music really helped me” or other such advice. If you don’t perform at all it would be hard to convincingly and effectively prepare your pupils for performance.

What do you consider to be the most important concepts to impart to beginning students, and to advanced students?

How to practise is probably up there for both. With beginning students it’s probably more important to educate the parents. With advanced pupils I encourage them to have a holistic approach to playing- listen, attend concerts, learn about composers and pianists and play with other musicians.

What do you consider to be the best and worst aspects the job?

Best- the music and the people. Worst- tax and admin!

What is your favourite music to teach? To play?

I love teaching all sorts of music but love a bit of Beethoven. To play- duets with my pupils and friends.

Who are your favourite pianists/pianist-teachers and why?

I have a top ten in my head but always delight in Murray Perahia’s playing.

Fiona is an experienced and successful piano teacher, mentor, presenter and music journalist. She is involved in many areas of professional development via workshops, mentoring and presentations, talks and seminars for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM), Hal Leonard, the European Piano teachers Association (EPTA), Essex Music Services (EMS) and other music services. She has written several articles on aspects of instrumental teaching and reviewed piano sheet music for Music Teacher magazine, EPTA Piano Professional Journal and the British Music Education Yearbook. Fiona also works as a mentor, guiding and advising instrumental teachers for the ABRSM and Essex Music Services and has edited and arranged two educational piano books-“Songs of the British Isles and Ireland” and “Treasured Classics”, for De Haske.