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In her recent interview in ‘The Observer’, Dame Fanny Waterman expressed fears for the future of British pianism, blaming the popularity of “electric keyboards”, children starting to learn the piano later than in other countries (in particular the Far East) and lack of discipline for declining standards of playing and competition success. The article also infers that success in international competitions (such as the Leeds International Piano Competition, which Dame Fanny co-founded in 1961) is the benchmark by which “great” pianists should be measured. I have already written two responses to Dame Fanny’s comments (here and here), and acclaimed pianist and writer Susan Tomes has also written on this subject, in particular on the thorny issue of competitions. The interview created a lively debate across my networks on Facebook and other social media, with many people taking issue with Dame Fanny’s inference that there are no “great” British pianists active today.

I don’t agree with her: in my concert-going and reviewing activities, I have been fortunate to hear some fantastically talented British pianists, and some young, emerging artists who are definitely “ones to watch” for the future.

But what defines “greatness?”, and what criteria should we use to determine the most desirable qualities in a “great” performance? Are these criteria also influenced by fashion and changing taste, recordings and performance practice?

I feel it is time to celebrate British pianists, and I’d like readers to submit their own “greats”, which can then be compiled into a comprehensive list of great British pianists active today.

A handful of my personal choices to get the ball rolling:

Steven Osborne – his affinity with and understanding of late-nineteenth century and twentieth-century French music, in particular Ravel and Messiaen, is, for me, hard to match.

Peter Donohoe – for the sheer range of his repertoire and for bringing lesser-known composers, such as Henry Litolff, to the fore

Benjamin Grosvenor – a young British artist who is already showing huge promise, not least for his exquisite control of sound and touch, and his understated, thoughtful approach.

Please submit your nominations via the comments box below or contact me.

 

Who or what inspired you to take up singing, and make it your career? 

There was no great moment of revelation, more a progressive realisation that I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. I’d sung with choirs and performed in amateur dramatic groups as a teenager, and enjoyed both hugely. Then around the age of 16 I won a county scholarship to have singing lessons at the Welsh College of Music and Drama. My teacher there was Beatrice Unsworth, and from the very first lesson she showed huge faith in me, and was brave enough to stick her neck out and tell me I had the potential to make a career of singing, if I decided that was what I wanted. It’s a far safer bet when giving advice to young singers to preach caution, and rightly so, but at some point an artistic career needs a leap of faith, and it takes great courage and vision to support a young artist in doing that.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career? 

There are too many to mention, and if I begin to name individuals I know I’ll miss someone out. In all honesty I’d say I’ve taken something, whether it be of great significance or only a small hint or reflection, from everyone I’ve met and worked with. On a personal level, I’m fortunate to have a hugely supportive network of family and friends who are all incredibly patient and understanding. Every singer needs those people if they’re to survive in the long run.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 

Getting into postgraduate music college in the first place, having come from an entirely amateur musical background up to that point. Getting through the tough first few years of my career, when I was strapped for both money and time. Continuing to motivate myself to get to work on each new piece in the first few stages of learning and memorisation.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

In terms of live performances, it’s tricky to know, since you as the performer never get to see it, and once it’s happened it’s gone forever, and more often than not you don’t have time to reflect on it before you’re on to starting work on the next project.

With recordings it’s different – you can come back to them a couple of years later and assess them more rationally. I’m very fond of my first album, Enaid – Songs of the Soul, which I recorded with Llyr Williams a few years ago – I think we came very close to achieving what we set out to achieve with it, and it still excites me to hear it, even though I’m sure we’d do it all differently now. On film, I’m pleased with the recording of Jackie O that was made when we performed it at the Teatro Comunale di Bologna – it’s a rarely-performed piece, and is very idiosyncratic, but I have a great fondness for it, and it brings back a lot of happy memories to watch it.

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

I’m not the best one to assess that! But I’d say the composers for whom I feel most affinity in terms of their vocal writing are Mozart, Puccini and Wagner – with all three I get a strong sense of understanding what they were seeking in terms of vocal colour and dramatic and emotional content.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season? 

First and foremost, I’ll need to sing whatever someone is willing to pay me to sing. That’s not a facetious answer – it’s the basic truth of a professional singer’s life. At the same time, you need to keep an eye on the horizon and the direction you’re headed in the long term. So I’ll listen to my voice, or rather, what my voice is telling me in terms of where it’s happiest, where it’s strengthening and so on (in conjunction with advice from trusted teachers and coaches), with the aim of exploring new areas of repertoire which could be viable in a few years’ time. You have to be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses, and be realistic about what you’re asking a casting panel to see and hear in you, while at the same time being clear in your own mind as to what you do best as an artist.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why? 

If you twist my arm I’d say St David’s Hall in Cardiff, from the point of view of a combination of acoustic, atmosphere and above all sentimental value – it’s where I grew up watching live music, and it always means a lot to me to perform there.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

Scarpia in Tosca is always a buzz. Anything by Wagner.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Tom Jones, Titta Ruffo, Shakira.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

It’s not repeatable in polite company – you’ll have to wait for my memoirs.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians? 

Work hard. Learn to switch off. Remember that the work doesn’t lead to rewards – the work is the the reward. Don’t be too ready to take advice from old musicians…. By which I mean, be open to advice and new ideas, but don’t be afraid to reject them, or save them for (sometimes years) later. Remember the bottom line is that as an artist the final responsibility for your technique, career and art is yours, and your aim is to produce something unique, not an imitation of anyone else’s work.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time? 

Alive.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Sitting on the sofa with my wife, with football on the TV and an interesting score on my lap.

What is your most treasured possession? 

My Bialetti Brikka coffee pot.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

What is your present state of mind?

Contented.

I wanted to write a further post in response to Dame Fanny Waterman’s piece in ‘The Observer’ in which she warns of a crisis in piano playing in the UK and blames the popularity of digital keyboards and electric pianos for the fact that UK performers are failing to compete internationally. (Read my initial response to Dame Fanny here.)

I don’t want to focus too much on the issue of competitions, which remains an area of heated debate amongst teachers, students, adjudicators and music journalists, but I would just like to quote some statistics which a colleague flagged up on Facebook in response to Dame Fanny’s article:

……a quick glance over the Leeds previous prizewinners [reveals that] of 95 names only 5 have sustained a major international career after the initial flurry of dates, only 2 of those were first prize winners anyway, and the most recent competitor from the group took part in 1987! Perhaps our British pianists have realised that there are better and more creative ways to create a career in the 21st century

Competitions should not be seen as the be all and end all, and I think we all need to get past this holy grail of “The Three C’s” – Conservatoire Competition Concerto.

In my experience, as a piano teacher and the co-organiser of a group for adult amateur pianists, I see no signs of a decline in interest in piano playing here in the UK. Far from it. I receive enquiries about lessons every week, and I know piano teaching colleagues in my own area of SW London and beyond would say the same. Most of us have healthy waiting lists. The piano remains a popular first instrument for children to learn because it is relatively easy to make a nice sound from the very first note. The members of my piano group range from people who have played the piano since childhood, returners, and adult learners of all levels. Some members are very fine players indeed, who are regular performers but who have chosen a different career path to music. What unites us is a shared passion for the piano and its literature.

In addition to piano groups, piano courses are becoming increasingly popular, offering adults and young people the opportunity to study with acclaimed performing artists and teachers. There are courses to suit all abilities and tastes from “piano retreats” in the French countryside, with five-star accommodation and wonderful food and the opportunity to study with an international artist, to weekend courses for advanced pianists (professional and amateur), courses focussing on contemporary music, accompanying, chamber music, jazz and much more.

Then there are festivals where children and adults can compete, receive constructive feedback from skilled adjudicators and enjoy hearing other people’s playing and repertoire.

The UK is host to many fine piano concerts throughout the year and attracts top-class British and international artists. Alongside concerts in mainstream venues, there are myriad other opportunities to hear piano music – but top international artists and also exciting young and emerging artists: in stately homes, churches, art galleries and museums, small regional arts centres, people’s homes, out doors….. These initiatives bring piano and other classical music closer to the audience and make the music and concert experience more accessible and intimate.

The piano is very much alive in the UK – let’s keep it that way.

Pianist and writer Susan Tomes has made an interesting and thoughtful contribution to this debate – read her article

 

I am delighted to feature another guest post by writer Dr James Holden

The piano tuner is tuning the piano.

Downstairs, the piano tuner presses down the piano’s keys in order to tune the piano.

He presses down a key. He presses down a key.

Downstairs, the piano tuner is working his way down the keyboard, pressing down each key in turn, turning the tuning pins, tuning it. He works his way right down, pressing now the downmost keys. The downmost keys need tuning and the piano tuner is now tuning them. They need tuning as they are down in pitch. These downmost keys need tuning because they are now down in pitch, and when the piano tuner presses down the keys they beat out of time. They have a metallic clang. When the piano tuner presses down the downmost keys it now sounds like a hammer striking a bell, not a string.

Downstairs, a bell is ringing. Downstairs the piano tuner is ringing a bell, a solemn bell. The hammer strikes. The bell tolls. The hammer strikes. It is a funeral bell tolling. It is a funeral bell, the bell that tolls downstairs, like Berlioz’s bell. It is a bell that calls forth to witness. Downstairs, the downmost notes sound out the Dies Irae. It is now Berlioz’s bell.

He presses down a key. He presses down a key.

Upstairs, I’m listening to the piano tuner. I’m listening to the piano tuner tune the piano. I’m listening to him tune the piano back up to pitch. Upstairs, the piano is uppermost in my mind. I should be writing down my thoughts, but I’m not. Upstairs, I’m listening to the piano tuner tune the piano.

He presses down a key. He presses down a key.

Downstairs, the piano tuner is working his way up the keyboard, turning the tuning pins, tuning it. He works his way right up, pressing now the uppermost keys. The uppermost keys need tuning and the piano tuner is now tuning them. These uppermost keys need tuning because they need to be brought up to pitch, and when the piano tuner presses the keys they beat out of time. They have a metallic clang. When the piano tuner presses the uppermost keys it now sounds like a series of small bells.

Downstairs, bells are ringing out. Downstairs the piano tuner is ringing bells, joyful bells. The clappers clap. The bells ring. The clappers clap. And as the piano tuner rings out these bells, and as he checks his octaves, he plays a casual, coincidental Campanella to rapturous applause. These are bells that call forth to dance, to get up. The uppermost notes sound out the steps. This is now Paganini’s peal.

He presses down a key. He presses down a key.

The piano is now in tune.

Downstairs, the piano tuner has tuned the piano. Downstairs, he has pressed down each key in turn, turned the tuning pins, tuned it. The notes are now where they should always have been. They are neither up nor down but right there, right where they should always have been.

The piano is now in tune.

About the author: 

James Holden is a writer working across the critical-creative divide. He is a specialist in British and European culture from the birth of Chopin in 1810 to the death of Monet in 1926. His published work includes In Search of Vinteuil: Music, Literature and a Self Regained (Sussex Academic Press, 2010). He is currently working on a philosophical reading of romantic pianism. James also writes experimental prose and poetry. He is currently associated with the HOARD art project in Leeds. 

His website is www.culturalwriter.co.uk 

He tweets as @CulturalWriter 

 

A short film about my piano tuner Rolf Dragstra, made by his son

 

Dame Fanny Waterman, co-founder, chair and artistic director of the Leeds International Piano Competition and grand elder stateswoman of piano teaching, has been in the news this week as she has announced that she will be standing down from the prestigious piano competition after next year’s event.

Dame Fanny is “a living institution of British music” (source: The Guardian) and her views and opinions command much respect in the piano world and music education community in the UK and beyond. In today’s Observer, she expresses her fears for the future of pianism in the UK. I read her article with interest and have enjoyed a lively discussion in response to it with members of my own pianistic and piano teaching community on social networks. Based on these discussions, I would like to offer some points in response to Dame Fanny’s view:

Electric pianos and keyboards

I don’t like these instruments either. They are not a patch on a “real” acoustic piano, upright or grand, but they do offer an affordable alternative and for beginning students, child or adult, I would not hesitate to recommend a digital piano. There are some excellent models on the market at the moment. Many people simply do not have the income nor the space to purchase an acoustic piano for their children when starting piano lessons. (And I have seen some truly awful pianos in the homes of some of music students – out of tune and badly maintained.) One of my students has recently acquired a piano, having been studying with me for c4 years. Her parents took the decision to upgrade to a proper instrument because they could see she was committed to her piano studies and they appreciate that a real piano will enable her to develop as a young pianist.

Starting young?

Some children show aptitude for a musical instrument from a very early age, some later. And some come to music in adulthood. What is important here is encouraging and supporting an interest in music. Sure, there are kids out there who “are capable of “amazing” performances aged just four”, but delve a little deeper and I think most of these proto-Lang Langs display exceptional technical facility without any proper insight or musical understanding. This comes with maturity, time spent with the  music, understanding the context in which the music was created, and listening around the music – and much more besides….

There are no great British pianists today?

Dame Fanny, I beg to differ. They may not be well known on the international circuit (yet), but I have encountered some extraordinarily talented British pianists through my concert reviewing and interviews on this blog. What about Benjamin Grosvenor, a young British artist who already shows tremendous maturity, beyond his tender years? Other artists I would cite include Danny Driver, Daniel Grimwood, Clare Hammond, Richard Uttley, Lara Melda, Cordelia Williams, Daniel Tong. There is a terrible tendency, especially amongst more senior members of our society, to continually hark back to an earlier “golden age”. But we should look to the future and nurture and encourage the talent we have.

British pianists are not entering the Leeds competition

As one contributor to the discussion on Facebook said, one needs a hefty amount of wherewithal to enter international competitions. Music is notoriously badly paid in the UK, and not many people have the financial support (including parents who will fund such ventures) to consider the risk of entering a competition. It’s not because British pianists aren’t good enough; it’s because many of them simply can’t afford it!

And competitions should never been seen as the be all and end all. Sure, winning a prestigious competition can launch one on a successful international career, but it’s not a dead cert.

Students today lack “a grounding in the instrument’s complexities”

Here I agree with Dame Fanny. In my experience as a regular concert-goer and reviewer, I come across too many young artists (of all nationalities) whose sound has become “dumbed down”, if you will. They aim for  middle of the road expression and dynamics which they believe will please audiences and critics, and (some) teachers. I think part of this is due to bad teaching – the teachers themselves do not understand the complexities of the instrument – and also the fault of exceptionally high-quality recordings whose sound artists feel they should replicate in live performances.

Young pianists have too narrow a repertoire

In fact, I think many young artists have too wide a repertoire, as they feel they must have the big warhorses of the standard piano repertoire in their fingers by a certain point in their career in order to gain recognition and respect. This goes back to my earlier point about maturity. But I agree with Dame Fanny’s point that piano students today do not spend enough time studying a composer’s complete oeuvre: one cannot study one piece in isolation. I teach context from the get go, encouraging students to understand where the music they are learning comes from and suggesting “further listening” and study to offer a broader picture.

Young people lack the discipline to study the piano seriously

In addition to the discipline that is required to practise and apply oneself to musical study, students also need encouragement and support from family and teachers. Parents also need to understand that genuine musical talent comes from day-in-day-out commitment – and on this point I agree with Dame Fanny. But children should not be pushed to the extent that they lose their childhood in the process.

Music lessons are becoming the preserve of the better off

With poor provision for music education and instrumental teaching in many of our state schools, sadly, private music lessons are becoming the preserve of the better off.  The cost of learning an instrument is a major barrier for many. Only a relatively small sector of our society can afford to put students into specialist music schools or offer the necessary funding for their study, both at school and beyond.

Initiatives such as James Rhodes’ ‘Don’t Stop the Music’ are laudable, but I think a major shift in attitude towards music and the arts in general needs to take place, from the Department of Education down, in order for music education to be respected and accepted as a necessary part of our children’s education. My own recent research into attitudes towards private piano teaching in the UK reveal an alarming viewpoint: that music is regarded as a “soft”  subject, or simply a “hobby”. This view extends into the world of professional music making, where musicians are not properly valued and receive poor or no pay, because they are perceived as doing a job they love, or that music is not regarded as “a proper job”. This is part of a wider discussion, but it is touched upon in Dame Fanny’s article.

Another related aspect is the British attitude towards “achievement” and that peculiarly British dislike of “show offs”. Achievement and excellence have become dirty words in this country, and this dumbing down begins in primary school (at least in the state sector) where, for example, sports day has become some bland running about pointlessly with teachers cheering kids on and saying anodyne things like “everyone’s a winner!”. Culture, excellence and personal achievement need to be supported, nourished and encouraged. 

Future of piano playing in UK is in peril, veteran teacher warns

Thank you to everyone who contributed to this discussion via my Facebook thread.

I was also interviewed by LBC in response to Dame Fanny’s article. Listen here

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and composing, and pursue a career in music?

I grew up in a musical household as my mother was a piano teacher. She taught me piano and I also played viola and violin, and for as long as I can remember I knew wanted a career in music. I think I first started composing because improvising new melodies and harmonies made practising my scales more interesting!

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Many and varied. I was fortunate enough to have an excellent musical education with many good teachers, starting with my mother. My secondary school, Dame Alice Owen’s, had a very strong music department and I attended Trinity College of Music, Junior Department on Saturdays. I also played the viola in Hertfordshire County Youth Orchestra. I then went on to study music at Oxford and composition at King’s College, London.

More recently, I joined CoMA (Contemporary Music for All) in 2005, playing the piano in CoMA London Ensemble which is a contemporary music group open to all instruments and all abilities. Initially I thought that CoMA would be a good way to provide composing opportunities, but I enjoyed playing the piano in the ensemble so much that I started to realise that I had more of a passion for playing than composing, particularly the excitement of playing contemporary music. CoMA has taught me more about contemporary music than my master’s degree in composition and I have discovered many wonderful composers and explored their solo piano music, including Paul Burnell, Joanna Lee and Dave Smith whose works appear on my latest CD.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

The greatest challenge for me has been working out how to find my niche as a musician in the first place. I always knew I wanted a career in music and after graduating I worked for several years in music organisations alongside some composing and teaching. However I always felt that I wanted to spend more time making music myself. When I had the opportunity to switch to part time hours in my administrative work I was able to think seriously about what career I really wanted and how to get there, and that’s when I realised that I wanted to focus on piano.

While I had always taken piano seriously I knew that converting this into a full-time career would require a concentrated period of study and that’s when I got in touch with my teacher Thalia Myers. Under her guidance I threw myself into getting my playing up to a standard where I could forge a career as a pianist.

Embarking on a career as a professional pianist in ones thirties rather than twenties has its challenges, but I believe that a richness of musical and life experiences informs my playing, providing me with something a little different to offer audiences.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

My first CD, Dream Rotation, which I recorded in November 2013 and which has recently come out. Dream Rotation is a collection of six contemporary works by composers I know. Four of the works were in fact written for me to play, two of which are dedicated to me. Five are premiere recordings.

I had at the back of my mind that I would like to record some of the repertoire I had been working on. I decided to go for it in 2013 when I discovered I was expecting a baby in early 2014 and I knew that my practising time would be reduced afterwards. I recorded the six works in one day in November 2013 at the Jacqueline du Pré music building in Oxford with the excellent recording engineer Adaq Khan. In the run-up to the day I had to put a lot of work into learning the works to a standard I was happy with and I had three other concerts during that two-week period. All while being seven months pregnant! The recording day itself was enormous fun and went more smoothly than I could have hoped for, then all the editing and admin that goes into bringing a CD out was done during 2014 in bits of time snatched in between looking after my little boy.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

As I am always learning new things and developing as a player it tends to be whatever I’ve performed most recently. I love playing contemporary music and I actually find standard repertoire quite daunting because there are so many interpretations already out there. I also love playing in ensembles and orchestras and regard this aspect of my playing as just as important as my solo playing.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

In a variety of ways. Depending on what concerts are coming up I may look for a piece for a particular occasion or others might make a specific request. In addition, composers often send me their works, which I welcome although I also warn them that their pieces will go on to a large pile on my piano and there’s no guarantee of a performance! I have discovered that male composers are much less shy about sending pieces to performers than female composers. Women take note!

As a composer, who are the major influences on your work?

A tough question! Every piece is different and I have sometimes noticed that each piece has something of whatever I’ve been listening to and playing at the time. In recent years this means CoMA repertoire, particularly the use of aleotoric notation such as indefinite pitches and rhythms and generally thinking outside the box. Composers such as Howard Cheesman, Joanna Lee, Stephen Montague and Dave Smith all think creatively about what the performers are required to do and how to express that in a notation which will be understood.

Do you find your composing informs your performing and vice versa?

Absolutely! In terms of playing it is useful to think about what kind of sound the composer was aiming for in any particular texture and to imagine each passage as if it were written for voice, and as if it were written for orchestra, as well as how it is actually written for piano. Understanding the structure of a piece and how the material develops is essential in planning a performance.

It is imperative for composers to understand their music from the point of view of a performer because it is only the performer who can actually bring the music to life. Since I have been playing contemporary music I have thought much more carefully about writing music for the instruments playing it and notating from the performer’s point of view. I think the music I have written as a result of this has greater clarity and I have been much more careful about how things are notated.

You have a special interest in contemporary repertoire and new music. What are the special pleasures and challenges of working with this repertoire?

Bringing a piece to life for the very first time is a wonderful experience. I love the feeling of discovering a piece I didn’t know before and with a brand new piece there is the added feeling of being the first to discover it. Think of your favourite piece of music and imagine being the first person to hear it!

Performers who concentrate on mainstream repertoire rely on a filtering process by which the best works survived and the less successful ones didn’t, whereas performing contemporary music involves being part of this filtering process. I find this exciting and rewarding but it does require patience because one has to engage with the less successful pieces as well as the gems. Patience is also required when working on a piece for the first time because there are invariably teething problems requiring a dialogue with the composer. Again, I enjoy this but it does require patience.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I have given several recitals at the Schott recital room in central London. I like the intimacy of this venue which enables the performer to engage with the audience. So many concerts are in churches and other large venues where the audience can hide at the back. Having said that, I am very much looking forward to performing at St. Cuthbert’s Church NW6 on 27 September. It is a modern building with a wooden interior and is beautifully proportioned inside. The concert is to celebrate the arrival of a new piano and launch of their concert series and I think it is going to turn out to be a popular chamber music venue.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I have a few pieces which I come back to regularly because they work so well in performance. Gabriel Jackson Angelorum is one I have performed many times as it is so satisfying to communicate to the audience, whether they are regular listeners of contemporary music or completely new to it. The pieces on my CD, particularly Joanna Lee Atta and Hopper and Paul Burnell 3 Plain Pieces fall in to the same category. Another piece I loved performing and hope to perform again is Patrick Nunn Music of the Spheres which includes electronic sounds taken from data from Voyager spacecraft as it flew past the planets. Great fun!

To listen to, I have several favourite composers including Bartok, Messiaen, Ravel and Schumann but really I love all classical music from Bach to Birtwistle.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Goodness, how long have we got? I think I’m just going to pick out a few musicians who have inspired me somehow for various reasons.

The pianist Mary Dullea is quite special. I have heard her and taken masterclasses with her at CoMA summer schools and her playing displays a really sensitive and intelligent musicianship as well as formidable technique. I am also a fan of the pianist Nicholas Hodges whose mastery of counterpoint makes sense of the most complex of Birtwistle’s piano works.

There are a number of living composers who I count amongst my favourites. Aside from the composers I have previously mentioned, I love the music of Phil Cashian. He has written a number of pieces for CoMA which work really well and he always uses fresh textures and has a wonderful ear for harmony. Julian Anderson and George Benjamin are also favourite composers of mine.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My first recital at the Schott recital room in September 2011 was very special as it was my first recital after I started studying piano seriously again. I played a set of twelve waltzes by Schubert, a short piece by Phil Cashian called Slow Air, Gabriel Jackson’s Angelorum and Schumann Kinderszenen. Unfortunately the event was tinged with sadness because, having taught me to play the piano in the first place and provided so much support over the years, my mother was not there to hear it as she had died earlier that year.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

General musicianship is so important. Develop a good sense of rhythm, pitch and harmony and everything else will be much easier. Taking part in a variety of musical activities, particular singing in a choir but also playing in an orchestra, accompanying, composing, arranging and improvising all helps to build a rounded musician.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I would like to be able to play a scale in thirds with one hand and for it to sound beautifully smooth.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

The things around me here at home: my lovely piano, wonderful husband, brilliant son and Maestro the cat. Not necessarily in that order!

What is your most treasured possession?

It would have to be the piano. What else? It is my first real piano. Until five years ago I only had a digital piano which is no replacement for the real thing. When I got married my in-laws gave us a proper piano as a wedding present. It was the best possible thing anyone could have given me. We chose a Boston upright UP132. When it arrived I realised that all I wanted to do was play the piano and I followed the course which has led me to where I am today.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Playing the piano, spending time with the people I love, eating and sleeping. Not necessarily in that order!

What is your present state of mind?

My mind is in many places at once nowadays as I try to get so much done in so little free time.