Guest post by Lisa Davies
Having set up the office to be able to work from home, and been successfully working from home for a week or so, I receive a phone call to say that I have been furloughed with immediate effect. So what should an amateur pianist do to fill all these spare hours?
The answer is a no-brainer – PRACTICE! So in line with Government restrictions, a routine soon built up: two hours in the morning followed by a walk (weather permitting) at lunchtime, another couple of hours in the afternoon, and then watch the ‘Rocky Horror Show’ from Downing Street at 5pm.
I am very lucky in as much as I have a brilliant piano teacher who foresaw exactly what was going to happen and helpfully suggested that perhaps it would be a good thing to abandon what I was currently looking at and learn a Beethoven piano sonata instead; he suggested Op 110 as it was a wonderful piece and had enough to keep me occupied and on the straight and narrow (if only he knew!) for the time being. So I immediately ordered the Urtext edition, which duly arrived on my doorstep within 48 hours – and so the fun and games began.
After the initial read-through to get the overall feel for the piece and see how it was to be tackled, it was down to the nitty-gritty. Out came the notes from the various piano courses I had attended with a view to putting all these different learning techniques in place – break it down, isolate the actual problem and get out the metronome, etc., and soon recognisable strains of Beethoven were emanating from the house.
So the ambitious plan was set – try and get through the whole sonata by the time I have my next lesson, whenever that would be. The main reason I had avoided this piece like the plague was that it had a fugue or two in the last movement; however, with enough graft it should EVENTUALLY start to take shape and I was told that I couldn’t use the excuse that my hands were on the small side – so just get on with it.
Now, having a practice regime is great but my husband and neighbours are not used to the constant aural bombardment. So far they have been very polite about it and one has even provided my husband with a man-cave to retreat to. I am sure they are all looking forward to me going back to work, whenever that might be, but in the meantime, I need to be considerate about the length of time that they have to put up with the noise and also the time of day it is inflicted on them.
As well as a superb grand piano, I am very lucky to own a Roland keyboard and this has really influenced the way in which I practice. With a set of decent headphones, the sound is great but it also has a secret weapon – an internal electronic metronome which can’t be thrown at the wall when it doesn’t keep time with your constant internal clock! So I can practice day or night without disturbing anyone (although I believe you know when I am playing as you can hear the noise of the keys being depressed over the top of the TV downstairs!)
Many hours of fun and bad language followed (particularly when tackling the fugues in the last movement) and then to prepare for a piano lesson with a difference – via Skype! So a date was set and software tested with a neighbour, and come the day we couldn’t get a connection on the laptop. But where there is a will, there’s a way. Abandon the laptop by the grand piano and use the keyboard with the mobile strapped to the top of the handle of the hoover! I was more worried about our stack of towels by the keyboard being visible than Op 110….
Several weeks on and Skype has been mastered and the laptop is now behaving – shame about the pupil. I am getting used to playing to a laptop balanced on a bar stool – shame there’s no bar! – and having my lesson at home with all the distractions that brings with it. If anyone thinks piano lessons by Skype are a doddle – think again. They work in a totally different way and are very productive, although I have yet to be convinced that pedalling is totally covered. I still wonder if there is any possibility of rigging up YouTube and using a professional recording one week instead of me….nice thought!!!!!!
In the meantime, the horrendous disease that has been incarcerating us all seems to be receding and so, if all goes to plan, I will be attending piano masterclasses in France in late August. Usually, I spend months preparing and memorising what I am going to take, but this year is different: the choice has been made for me – a certain Beethoven sonata. Can I prepare it in time? Only time will tell, but due to an enforced lockdown routine, the notes are learned and it is now being memorised (slowly!).
So what have I learned over the lockdown? On the surface the answer is very easy – Beethoven’s Op 110.
However, there is a deeper answer to that question. We have all been housebound for several months and there are people I know who have really found this period very difficult. But at a time when the arts are suffering through lost performances, music is being cut from schools and rumours that it could be cut from curricula in the short term to make up for the loss in the Three Rs, music is a subject or way of life that gives you a code for living.
Music demands dedication – you have to practice. In order to practice you need patience, thoughtfulness and tolerance. In the society in which we live, we need all of these in spades – particularly now. Surely people must realise that music teaches you about life and not just the pieces for your next exam or performance?
Lisa started learning the piano at 10 and, having decided that riding professionally was not for her (or rather her parents!), she auditioned for a place on the GR Course at the Royal Academy of Music, where she studied the piano with Peter Uppard and Margaret Macdonald. On leaving the RAM, she did a short part-time stint at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama before going to work as a Director of Music at a prep school. However, the lure of the bright lights of the big city and her family relocating to the UK were too much of a draw and Lisa ended up moving back to London and working in the City for many years. She married and moved to the South West, competed in Endurance Horse Riding at the highest level both at home and abroad, and worked for a number of blue chip companies in various roles. She has recently come back to playing the piano after a gap of 30 years. Lisa is now making up for lost time and tackling all the repertoire she should have looked at years ago!