“How do you find the time to do it?”

“What on earth do you to talk about?”

“What’s the point of it?”

Just a handful of comments I receive fairly regularly from those who do not Tweet. Unless you have been dwelling in a cave in Timbuktu, you probably know that Twitter is a social networking platform; a “micro blogging service” which allows individuals and organisations to share comments, news, thoughts, information, links, pictures and more in the form of short bulletins (maximum 140 characters – that’s 140 characters, not 140 words). Twitter was probably made famous by Stephen Fry, who is an active member of the Twitterati, and infamous by various ‘slebs’ (celebrities) who choose to air their dirty laundry in the Twittersphere. For the rest of us, Twitter offers a quick and easy way to connect with other people: it’s like Facebook, only better.

I joined Twitter two years ago, initially to promote my blogs. Then, last spring, I was co-opted to help with the publicity for a series of concerts pianist Peter Donohoe was giving at a small arts venue in north London. And that’s when I learnt the usefulness and power of Twitter.

Twitter is the “postcards in the shop window” of the digital age; but it’s also like a big noisy café or pub, full of friends chatting away, sharing stories, information, thoughts, comments, moving swiftly from one subject to another, while also eavesdropping on lots of other interesting conversations. Every day on Twitter (and yes, I hold my hand up and admit I am on Twitter every day: you only have to look at my Tweet count to see how much I use it, 9460 tweets as of just now – some 175 times more tweets than a friend of mine) I find useful and interesting things to read, gather information, share information, have “a larf” with friends, or simply pass the time of day with like-minded people (that café/pub analogy again). I use Twitter to promote my writing: tick a box on your blogging platform (WordPress, Tumblr etc) and your posts automatically stream to Twitter (and Facebook, and LinkedIn, if you so desire). I use Twitter to share recordings I’ve uploaded to SoundCloud (another social networking platform where people can share music, their own and other people’s), or videos I’ve uploaded or favourited on YouTube. I use Twitter to promote other people’s concerts, events, exhibitions, book signings. I’ve made friends via Twitter – and I even met some of them in person at the Wigmore last winter. Because we had chatted on Twitter, we got all the small talk out of the way before we met, so we could concentrate on the “big talk” (music, books, art, chocolate) while enjoying pre-concert drinks, which was far more interesting! And at a party for Bachtrack reviewers earlier this year, an exchange between myself and another reviewer went something like this:

“Hello @CrossEyedPiano!”

“How nice to meet you, @AltoJane!”

So how do you get the best out of Twitter? Here are my tips for optimal Twitter enjoyment:

  • I only follow people who really interest me (fellow pianists, piano teachers, music journalists, writers, foodies) and who tweet regularly with interesting things to say. I am not keen on users who tweet profanities, slag off other people, or use Twitter as a place to rant.
  • The more you tweet, the more you are likely to be noticed and earn new followers. Dormant Twitterers just aren’t that interesting. Sorry.
  • Try not to go in for too much flagrant self-promotion. I know I am guilty of this, to a degree, but I do try to keep my tweets varied and interesting.
  • Using another user’s Twitter name (with the @ prefix) is called a mention. By doing this you alert other users to that person so they can check out that person’s profile – and maybe follow them!
  • Ask other users to retweet your tweets and watch the results of the “ripple effect” (this is what I did with Peter Donohoe’s concert series).
  • Twitter can react very quickly to certain comments, events, news etc. Take the angry reaction by the Twitterati to comedian Ricky Gervais’s off-colour remarks last year. So be careful what you tweet. No slagging off colleagues, students, etc (except in direct messages between friends!).
  • Remember – unless you direct message (DM) someone, all your tweets are public (hence see above!)
  • I tend to avoid the inane and profane: for this reason I follow neither Stephen Fry nor James Rhodes.
  • “Follow Friday” (#ff) is a Twitter tradition: on Fridays recommend users to others.
  • You can undo a rewtweet and delete one of your own tweets.

Twitter as a promotional tool:

  • Tweet upcoming concert dates (try to include a link for ticketing info etc), appearances, signings, CD releases. But don’t just tweet once two months before the event. Keep up the momentum: you want your concert/exhibition/signing to be at the forefront of people’s minds – and remember, the Twitterati have short memories. Twitter is very “here today gone tomorrow”.
  • Tweet reviews and other press coverage ahead of your event (again, remember to include a link, preferably to one of my reviews!)
  • Retweet any mentions by your agent/manager/PR/concert venue/friendly bloggers/other interested parties
  • If you have samples of your work on Spotify, iTunes or SoundCloud, share them on Twitter. (I was applauded for my ingenuity in including some links to Dutch composer Jan Vriend’s work on SoundCloud ahead of the premiere of his new work for piano earlier this year. It was a great way to offer a taster of his work ahead of the concerts.)
  • Use the hashtag (#) to facilitate easy searches (I regularly use #piano and #pianoteaching).
  • Enable a Tweet button on your website/blog so that readers can tweet to others.
  • If you’re on tour Tweet some bulletins of what you’re doing/where you’re playing. Pianist Peter Donohoe tweeted rolling updates from the Tchaikovsky competition last summer, which gave a real flavour of the tension and excitement of the event.
  • Don’t tweet “had a dry biscuit and a cup of tea at 11” or “rained again. took dog out”. We only tweet things like that in an entirely tongue-in-cheek way when we’re all enjoying the hashtag “original Twitter”.

Caveat emptor!

Beware spammers and sexbots. At the moment, Twitter seems fairly “clean” and free of spam, but just like anywhere else on the internet, it is liable to spam/inappropriate usage. You can block and report users whose tweets you feel are spam or inappropriate. We’ve all been followed by the sexbots whose tag line says “next summer I am having sex on the moon”, or offered a free iPad2. In many ways, Twitter is self-regulating, so help to keep it clean and enjoyable by reporting users who are there for the wrong reasons.

Just in case he reads this, many thanks to @Mangofantasy, who was my very first follower on Twitter, and who has subsequently become a friend, on Twitter and in Real Life, sharing my love of music, art, literature, blogging, food and more. Also thanks to all those people who retweet my tweets, share my blog posts via Twitter, and generally help to make life on Twitter engaging, amusing and informing.

Scott Inglis-Kidger (photograph: Clive Boursnell)

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

My first inspiration was my music teacher, Matthew Grehan-Bradley. He had a meticulous attention to detail which inspired me in my own pursuit of perfection. He took a small group of us to Prague to sing Palestrina masses; this was when I decided to become a countertenor. The second and most influential musician in my life is Stephen Cleobury, Director of Music for the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge. It was a privilege to sing in this marvellous choir in my final year at Cambridge. I was enthralled by Stephen’s conducting during a performance of Handel’s Messiah, and from then on I knew I wanted to be a conductor.

Who or what were the most important influences on your conducting?

I have always admired the work of Harry Christophers’ The Sixteen and John Eliot Gardiner’s Monteverdi Choir. These immensely successful ensembles were founded during university days by conductors who had a vision, not only for the performance of renaissance and baroque music, but also for the growth of the ensembles. It was this which encouraged me to form Platinum Consort, which I co-founded with Claire Jaggers. I am now beginning to realise my dream with a professional ensemble of singers, a boys’ choir and thriving diary of choral workshops.

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

The greatest challenge so far has been leaving the security of my post as a school Director of Music. Teaching was such a valuable experience in terms of mastering the art of positive reinforcement, essential for children and adults alike. I also learnt a lot about management. I like to think of myself as being quite entrepreneurial, and the experience of managing a busy team of music teachers was crucial in building the ‘business’ side of Platinum. I knew I would miss the children and my staffroom colleagues but now that I am a fully freelance conductor I realise it was the right thing to do.

Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of?

I will never forget conducting my very first Platinum Consort concert in 2005. I had little experience in programming and managed to cram 15 of the most difficult pieces of choral music (Gesualdo featuring heavily) and a new mass setting by my friend Richard Bates into 90 minutes. It was a learning curve, to say the least, but I still listen to the recording and I am very proud of the amazing sounds we created. In terms of my latest activities, I am immensely proud of Platinum’s debut album In The Dark which will be released later this year. It represents the journey of Platinum over the last seven years. In many ways, it really doesn’t feel like a debut!

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

One of my most treasured places to perform is the chapel of Jesus College, Cambridge. It is one of the oldest chapels in the university and has the most sublime acoustic, perfectly suited to the early and early-inspired choral repertoire. Having said that, I am very excited to be performing in the newest concert hall in London. The interior of Hall One at Kings Place was created with wood from a single oak tree. This makes for a pretty awesome atmosphere! I will conduct Platinum Consort there later in 2012 and also in 2013 as part of their series of concerts.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

At the moment they are James MacMillan’s Miserere and Gesualdo’s Tristis est anima mea. The MacMillan is ecstatically beautiful and the Gesualdo wonderfully perverse. In fact I am listening to Tristis now against a backdrop of thunder and lightening. Both will feature on our debut album In The Dark.

Who are your favourite musicians?

In the early music field I have a massive soft spot for soprano Dame Emma Kirkby and baroque violinist Rachel Podger. Their performances are spirited and free from constraint, something every musician strives for. My favourite choir at the moment is the young British ensemble, Stile Antico.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I conducted my first Handel Messiah in November 2011. I had the combined forces of Thomas’s Choral Society, Saraband Consort and a stunning line up of soloists, all housed in a precariously packed Holy Trinity, Sloane Square. We have all heard a hundred renditions of the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus but this one was different – it was ‘Scott’s Way’. I will never forget it.

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

As a singer myself – and someone who was politely told at primary school he was tone deaf – I encourage everyone to realise the potential in their own voice, whether they are children, amateurs or professionals. The crucial thing I realised from a very early stage in my career is that there should be no distinction between these three types of musician. Imparting good vocal technique and unbounded passion and enthusiasm is crucial across the board. Something I impart to the young choristers of Platinum Boys’ Choir is the importance of them carrying on a deeply rooted tradition. Choral singing is alive and well, but could disappear as easily as it was invented. The only constant is the walls in which we sing.

What are you working on at the moment?

I have just completed a very busy two months, including Platinum’s first commercial recording project and a Boys’ Choir tour to Venice. I have a number of workshops to look forward to in London as well as our very first workshop – Vivat – in Durham on 2nd June, celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. I am conducting a very special concert in May to launch Platinum Choral Foundation and later this year I am looking forward to the release of our album and appearing at Kings Place.

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

In 10 years’ time I would like to be recording a new album several times per year, performing in festivals in the UK and abroad, and for Platinum Consort to have recognition as being amongst the top choral groups in world. I would also like to have thriving Boys’ and Girls’ Choirs along with a young singers’ scheme, creating a path for talented young singers to realise their potential.

What is your most treasured possession?

Apart from my Apple Mac, which I couldn’t function without, my most treasured possession is a signet ring passed down to me by my grandmother. I wear it for good luck when I’m conducting.

Scott Inglis-Kidger is a conductor and vocal coach based in London. He is Founder and Director of Platinum Consort and Director of Music for Thomas’s Choral Society. He read Music at the University of Cambridge, where he sang as a countertenor in the world famous King’s College Choir. In addition to conducting, Scott directs many workshops around the country and is much in demand as a vocal coach for individuals and groups, and as an early music specialist. He was previously Director of Music at Willington Independent Preparatory School and Thomas’s Preparatory School, Battersea, establishing highly regarded liturgical choirs in both schools.

Platinum Consort was founded by Scott Inglis-Kidger and Claire Jaggers in 2005. The consort specialises in bringing vibrancy to early music, as well as breathing life into newly commissioned pieces. Originating at the University of Cambridge, the consort attracted singers from the renowned choirs of St John’s, Jesus, Trinity and King’s Colleges. Now a professional vocal octet, Platinum Consort boasts some of the best young singers in London. The group has an affinity with the music of composer Richard Bates and recently premiered his Tenebrae Responsories. Platinum also comprises a Boys’ Choir which aims to be one of the best of its kind in the UK. In addition to this our Choral Workshops provide a wealth of opportunities for singers who wish to explore glorious repertoire in smaller groups. You can find out more at:

www.platinumconsort.com.

www.twitter.com/SInglisKidger

www.twitter.com/PlatinumConsort

www.facebook.com/PlatinumConsort

www.youtube.com/PlatinumConsort

www.vimeo.com/PlatinumConsort

www.soundcloud.com/PlatinumConsort

I can think of few better ways to spend a Monday lunchtime, especially a very rainy Monday lunchtime in June. It was a pleasure to duck away from the milling shoppers on a very greasy, wet Oxford Street, and slip into the plush, civilised embrace of the Wigmore for a concert by two charming Frenchman (François Leleux and Emmanuel Strosser) of music for oboe and piano by Britten, Poulenc and Dutilleux. I was “off duty” yesterday, i.e. not reviewing, merely meeting a friend to enjoy some quality music, followed by a chatty lunch at Comptoir Libanais, just across the road from the hall.

It’s a while since I heard live woodwind, and, from my vantage point in row B, I was able to enjoy the physicality of the oboist’s performance. It was wonderful to hear his breath actually being pushed into the instrument, and the click-clacking of his fingers on the keys as he wrought a huge range of colours, moods and shadings from the music. Britten’s Six Metamorphoses, a work for oboe alone, was introduced with great humour, and played with wit. The Poulenc Sonata was both wistful and jazzy, while the Dutilleux contained nods to his contemporary, Olivier Messiaen. The musicians were clearly good friends, evident from the ease of their body language as they performed. They were genial and smiling, and we, the audience, smiled back.  An encore “by a very famous French composer [Saint-Saens]” (more smiles and good-natured laughter) was generous and humorous.

I have never been to an indifferent concert at lunchtime at the Wigmore; and I have been to some truly superb lunchtime concerts. The 2pm end time means there is still time for a late lunch: a while back a friend and I went to the restaurant at the Wallace Collection for lunch, which was really wonderful treat.  Often you can pick up a ticket on the door, and the lunchtime recitals are excellent value at £12 (concessions £10). Go on, try it. You know you want to.

The Upper Class at Bay, tapestry by Grayson Perry

It’s about time we stopped referring to Grayson Perry as “the transvestite potter who won the Turner Prize”. That was then (2003); this is now, and Perry, by his own admission, hasn’t made a pot for ages. Perry, who is articulate and highly engaging on any subject, and who has always used his art and craft to comment on contemporary society’s mores, hypocrisies, and preoccupations, has now turned his keen artist’s gaze and curiosity onto taste and the British (which is, of course, synonymous with class) in a television series and an exhibition at Victoria Miro Gallery in north London of six monumental tapestries inspired by Hogarth’s social commentary ‘The Rake’s Progress’.

Read my full review here

This post was prompted by a conversation over the weekend with a piano friend of mine: we were discussing ways in which students can free themselves from the constraints that prevent them from giving their all in a performance situation, and the expression “playing naked” came up, which I thought very appropriate. It refers not to a means of dealing with performance anxiety where one imagines that the entire audience is naked (an empowering way of turning the dynamic in a stressful situation), but to giving oneself permission to stand back from the music, to let go, and to play with passion and commitment.

If you are naked at the piano, whether literally or metaphorically, there is nowhere to hide, and you must do everything in your power to distract the audience from your “nakedness”. (Those of us who perform, and who suffer from the anxiety of performance, may well have had the dream/nightmare where we are in a performance situation without the protective carapace of clothes.), So, do you run screaming from the stage, or do you face up to the challenge?

Playing “naked” means:

  • Stripping away inhibitions, over interpretation, unnecessary gestures, and pretentions
  • Giving yourself up to the music
  • Playing with heart and soul
  • Believing completely in what you do
  • Fearless and focussed performance
  • Playing “for the love of music” (Rostropovich), with a vibrant sound and charismatic rhythm which radiates authority and emotion
  • Precise execution from well-honed technique
  • Crafting confidence and developing a positive response to stress
  • Finding meaning, desire and depth in your performance

by Catherine Shefski

As adult pianists we all know how hard it is to carve out practice time every day. Our days slip by  full of errands, phone calls, appointments and chauffeuring kids. Sometimes whole weeks or even months fly by while we’re bombarded with family emergencies, travel, or job obligations. But we’re constantly nagged by that inner voice that tells us that consistency and time at the piano are required for steady improvement.

For the past few months I’ve been very lucky to have a lull in activity on the home front. With my daughter happily off studying abroad and two sons away at college, I chat with them often and know that they are safe, healthy and independent. For five months I was able to fill my non-teaching hours at the piano preparing for each week’s Go Play Project recording. But now things are heating up. I’m getting ready to launch a new website and learning everything I can about marketing, branding and book proposals. I’m preparing students for their annual National Guild Auditions and Spring recitals. And I’m getting excited about my daughter coming home to finish high school and start the college search and application process. My time at the piano these days is limited.

When I do find the time to sit down at the piano I aim for deliberate practice. But I also find that more often than not, simply finding the easiest way to play a difficult passage is often the best way. The shape of the phrase leads me to find the best fingering or hand movement. Awkward hand positions are  made more comfortable by simply moving the hand into the black keys. Large leaps are spot on when   I move my arm in an arc and look before I leap. Cantabile comes from the fingertips along with a freely suspended arm and close listening. Fast octaves? For me it’s all in the rebound. Playing the piano is not hard work. It’s not about getting in shape or building muscles. In fact it’s the opposite of the “no pain, no gain” rule of sports. When you’re doing it right, it feels good.

So to all those pianists who are bombarded by life’s obligations, take heart. Piano playing is not always about how regularly you practice or how long you practice or even how deliberate you practice. It just might be  about grabbing that half hour before a student arrives at the door, or those first minutes of daylight with your morning coffee, and ‘coming home’ to the piano. It’s about sinking into the keys and expressing yourself through your fingertips. It’s about deep listening and communication. And in the end it just might about the child leaving home for college or the military. Or about the recent break-up or new romance, the death in the family or the new baby’s birth.

 

Catherine Shefski is pianist, teacher and blogger who is currently recording one piano piece a week for The Go Play Project.