Piano Notes – Simon Ball

SEBHow long have you been playing the piano? 

25 years – since I was about five.

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

My big love is the middle-late Romantic period.  But pretty much anything by Beethoven, Liszt or Rachmaninov is heaven to me!

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

I find it very difficult, actually – as you get older, there’s so much else to get in the way.  I learned pretty early on that I’m terrible at making myself do anything, so it has to be something I desperately want to do.  Oddly enough, when it’s to enable me to play something I love, it’s not a problem at all!  I’ve pretty much never practised scales and exercises, except for exams, but at least I can appreciate their use these days, so I do try and force myself to battle through some Hanon exercises every now and then!

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

I was fortunate enough to attend music college as a piano student for a while, before leaving to pursue a different career, so I had the opportunity to participate and attend loads of masterclasses.  They’re the most daunting, rewarding, terrifying, exhilarating, useful thing you can do.  Everyone in that room speaks exactly the same musical language, and, without exception, you’ll come away with some ideas you never would have thought of on your own.

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

For me, the most enjoyable thing about piano lessons is the opportunity to play for and with someone whose musical opinions and knowledge I respect and admire.  It sounds clichéd, but a piano teacher is much more than a teacher; mine have always pretty much been life mentors too.  Every emotion or difficulty you will ever experience in life is perfectly encapsulated somewhere in musical form.  Discussing it and experiencing it with someone else is actually a terribly intimate thing to do.  This is brilliant when you’re on the same wavelength as your teacher, but it’s why you need to find the teacher that’s right *for you*.

What are the special challenges of preparing for a piano exam as an adult? 

I finished my grade exams by the time I left school.  There has been a gap of 10 years or so, and I’ve finally decided to go for the DipABRSM and ATCL exams at some point in the near future.  I never used to worry about whether I was good enough, or whether I’d look an idiot, but these fears creep in as you get older, particularly if you stop being used to playing in public and for different people.  I have a memory of coming to a halt and completely drying up in front of Stephen Hough from when I was at music college – one of the most embarrassing moments of my life (although he is loveliness personified!).  It keeps creeping back in when I play in public, and it’s something I’m going to have to work through!

Has taking piano lessons as an adult enhanced any other areas of your life? 

Definitely.  Music encompasses all, in my opinion, and the older you get, the more you’ve experienced and can put into the music, and vice versa.  Music, and an appreciation for it, has got me through some very difficult times.  It’s all very well being able to rattle through Liszt’s Piano Sonata when you’re 15, but do you *understand* it?  Very occasionally, there are people not of this world (I’m looking at you, Evgeny Kissin!) who do, but for the rest of us mere mortals, a deep understanding and love for music, and life, comes only with age.

Do you play with other musicians? If so, what are the particular pleasures and challenges of ensemble work? 

I don’t at the moment, and it’s something I’m really missing.  The problem with being a pianist, though, is that it’s much harder to find ensemble work – people only generally ever need one at a time!

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

I haven’t performed in public for some years, and it’s something I’m really going to try and correct in the very near future.  It terrifies me, but in a good way, I think.  I must find a church with a decent piano or something and book the hall.  Rather pathetically, I do keep a couple of concertos under my fingers “just in case” an opportunity to play with an orchestra ever magically presents itself!

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

If I had a pound for everyone who, upon finding out that I play the piano, tells me that they wish they’d kept up childhood lessons, I’d have, well, at least twenty pounds!  I always say the same thing: “Do it!”  And I mean it.  They will immediately protest that they “aren’t musical”, or “don’t have the time”, or “are too old”.  All of these things are utter rubbish.  I truly believe that everyone has the ability to play something.  Some of us are incredibly lucky and find the right instrument when we’re a child, or the right instrument finds us, but if you haven’t yet, you should bloomin’ well do something about it!  Now!  Go online and find someone.  What’s the worst that can happen?  The right instrument for you may well not be the piano, but you can be absolutely certain that it’s out there, somewhere.

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

Oh, gosh!  So many!  I’d love to be able to play Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit.  I saw Ashkenazy play it when I was a teenager, and it’s mesmerised me ever since.

 

Simon began piano lessons at the age of five, after what he is assured were months of “pester-power”.  His later formative lessons were with the late and very-much-missed Tony Cross of Birmingham Conservatoire, following whose sad death, and after further excellent tuition from Margaret Newman of Trinity College of Music, Simon decided that piano playing was going to be a large part of his future.

In 2000, Simon gained a place to study piano at the Royal Northern College of Music, before sadly finding the experience too suffocating and leaving to pursue a more “normal” career, whilst maintaining a deep love for the instrument.

Simon lives in Birmingham, and is currently seriously considering gaining the necessary qualifications to change careers from law to piano teaching in the long term.  His hobbies include cooking, gardening, and flying light aircraft on the rare occasions that funds allow.