How long have you been playing the piano? 

On and off, since about age 12. Playing implies a bit more than what I did then; playing at playing would be nearer the truth.

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

Playing, I enjoy Bach more than anything. This is because he wrote pieces for all levels of ability that challenge and inspire the player. Also because of the diversity of beautiful, rewarding musical experiences one gets from exploring his works. No two sittings produce the same interpretation. My second favourite pieces to play at the moment are American songs, by Gershwin, Berlin and Porter.

Listening I love Chopin, Bach, Debussy and Ravel, with Takemitsu looming larger on the radar. Chopin favourites include the Polonaise Op 40 No. 2, Etude Op 25 No 2 and the ‘Largo’ from the 3rd Piano Sonata.

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

I work full time and commute daily from the Isle of Wight to the mainland, so practice time in the week is generally tired hours around 8/9 pm. Curiously the tiredness doesn’t seem to matter. I find it so profoundly pleasurable to play at any time.

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

The most enjoyable thing is hearing praise from my teacher and demonstrating any progress I may have made. My current teacher Valentina Seferinova is thoroughly encouraging and pleasant to be with so lessons are always a joy. The most challenging thing is preparation, often to my shame at the last minute.

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

Exam nerves can be quite daunting for adults and of course the time factor is often key for the working person. I took up exams in middle age and there are biological challenges such as less flexible joints, that can be a real difficulty when mastering scales and arpeggios.

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

I have had a number of teachers including Shirley Camfield on the Island, and now Valentina, who have become friends. Also, playing seriously has opened doors for me to play in a local restaurant and for a local pantomime, meeting lots of people and making many friends and acquaintances. It also motivates me to do something creative in the evenings and weekends and stimulates musical appreciation at concerts and while listening to music. The spin-off benefits are actually countless.

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

I don’t play with other musicians but have occasionally had the pleasure and privilege of criticism from other pianists.

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

I love to perform and hope to do more, perhaps performing classical pieces as I improve. What I love is expressing my feelings about the music to others and hopefully communicating the love I have for the pieces.

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

I would encourage anyone, who feels they have a talent, to go for it. Do not dwell on negative thoughts about your ability but practice assiduously and you will improve.

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

Chopin’s Polonaise Op 40 No 2.

Final thoughts: I was inspired very much reading Alan Rusbridger’s story about Gary who found solace from depression by playing piano. I too find it the one thing that gives me creative satisfaction and effective therapy from the trials of existence.

The Baha’i Writings state: “We have made music a ladder by which souls may ascend to the realm on high” This perfectly says it for me.

Ian Digby lives on the Isle of Wight, and recently passed his Grade 8 with Distinction

How long have you been playing the piano?

36 years, with a 5 year gap!

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

Everything classical! Whatever I’m playing at the time I love.

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

I never have enough time to practise, I work full time running my own business, but manage about 5 or 6 hours a week practise, a lot more when I’m on holiday!

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

Fantastic to meet other people interested in the same thing – its quite a lonely hobby! I organise piano masterclasses for Ulverston Music Festival: we have 3 per year in Broughton-in-Furness, Cumbria. I also attend other piano events in Cumbria.

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

I love my lessons, I love learning and I love practising! There is more than enough repertoire out there for very many lifetimes, so I can never run out of things to learn!

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

A knowledge of The Fear of Failure. Children don’t have this! I have found it prohibitive and as a consequence have not done any further exams after grade 8 ten years ago.

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

Yes, its given me more confidence generally, as the piano is so central to me, the feel good factor extends to everything else!

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

I play duets with a friend – it’s magic making music with someone else!

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

Love performing when I am in the right frame of mind and I know the piece well enough – it’s the best feeling when you know you have played something well

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

Don’t hesitate!

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

Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin, complete

(that’s as of today……next week could be something else!!)

How long have you been playing the piano? 

I have been playing for 36 years  – since the age of 5! But for 20 of these years my playing was very occasional.  I have only taking it up again seriously in the past 6 months.

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

I still tend to return to the pieces I played well as a child/teenager: Beethoven, Scarlatti and a bit of Debussy.  I have just started attempting some of the Bach Preludes and Fugues but have never formally learnt any Bach before so finding it a challenge! I love to listen to Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninov, Debussy.

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

Practising during the week can be a struggle as I work full time and am often not home in time to be able to practise without being an anti-social neighbour! But I try to practice at least 2 evenings a week and then for a hour or more each weekend. I do love to practise as I find it incredibly therapeutic – because you have to concentrate so much there is no ‘mind space’ available to think about the day-to-day hassles and worries that too often will encroach when doing other, less taxing, activities.  And, of course, when I practise in the privacy of my own home I always play superbly!

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

As a child and teenager I would regularly perform in festivals but nothing since.  I would love to at some point – perhaps when I am a little less rusty.

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

I started lessons again a few months ago although didn’t get very far with the teacher.  However I have just recently started learning with Graham Fitch who is inspirational and brilliant!  In just my first hour with him I learnt more than I have in many, many years.

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

Immeasurably.  Life in the corporate world (which is my current day-job) can be stressful and soul-less.  Recently things have become very difficult in my particular job and, partly because of this, I have found myself returning to those things that mean the most to me, and one of these has been returning to more serious piano practice.   Being able to ‘zone-out’ and concentrate on specific musical challenges is a wonderful way of switching-off from the stresses.  It reminds me of what is truly important and who I really am!

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

I have not done so since being at school where I would often accompany friends in their exams and also accompanied the school choir and orchestra.  All a very long time ago!

Again, when I am less rusty I would love to do so again.

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

Not since the 1980s!

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

Do it. It can be life-saving.

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

Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.   Maybe not a very original choice!

Rebecca grew up in Southampton where she started playing piano at age 4: her father has always been a very keen amateur pianist and she learnt to read music at the same time as learning to read.   She took all my grades and passed grade 8 at the age of 14.   Soon after that, real life took over.   She had her daughter very young (she is now 25), and then went to Southampton University where she studied English Literature. Rebecca then moved to Teddington and took her PGCE at Roehampton University.   She taught English for 2 years in a secondary school before re-training in Finance.  She spent 15 years in various finance roles – including 10 at a large Education and Publishing Company where she was a Divisional CFO.  Rebecca recently left this job to sett up a piano teaching practice. She has a particular interest in teaching early-years children as well as adult beginners and returners. Rebecca lives in Teddington with her daughter, Carmen, and studies piano with Graham Fitch.

rebeccasingermanknight.com

PeteCHow long have you been playing the piano?

Started with lessons at school 60-odd years ago, but never did any exams or grades; Kept it up, informally and somewhat chaotically, until after retirement; (I’ve usually had a piano in the house); started lessons again 3 years ago.

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

Mostly romantic standards: learned a few Chopin pieces recently, earlier did some Granados Spanish Dances. Also, Ravel, but I find most of it too hard, Debussy: a bit easier!

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

I’m retired, so I practise an hour or so most days when at home. Yes, I enjoy it or I wouldn’t be doing it.

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

Masterclasses at Broughton in Furness with Anthony Hewitt, Martin Roscoe and others. I feel I get more from the fact of performing in front of people than from what I learn at the class

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

Making discernable progress: e.g. attempted a piece 2 years ago (Ravel: ‘Menuet’ from Tombeau de Couperin) and gave up as it seemed beyond my abilities. Took it up again a month or two ago and realised that it was now quite feasible. I feel I am hampered by having done little work on scales, arpeggios etc – there is no infrastructure to my playing!

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

Socially, we have a Piano Circle, hosted by my piano teacher. We meet once a month and play our pieces to each other. Most of the other members are more advanced than me, but we all encourage each other and I get some compliments about my playing, which is good for my confidence. I find that the challenge of playing to others means that I have to get a piece up to a presentable standard rather than giving up when the going gets tough. (For example I have played the first two pages of Debussy’s Clair de Lune for years but always gave up when the arpeggios begin). I’m planning to learn it properly when I’ve done my present piece.

In addition, we go to local concerts, for which I might not be motivated without social pressure.

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

I play at Piano Circle and at masterclasses. I’m a nervous performer, and tend to play much worse than I do at home in private. I wish I could stop making careless mistakes!

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

Go for it!

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

I’ve been trying to learn the Chopin’s Prelude no 17 in A flat. It’s a wonderful piece with those amazing chromatic episodes: trouble is, it’s just a bit too hard for me at present! I gave it a trial outing at Piano Circle a few months ago and made a bit of a mess of it, but doubtless it will come! As we’re thinking about Alan Rusbridger and ‘Play It Again’, perhaps it is my G minor Ballade! 

Peter Cockshott lives in the Lake District. He studied physics at University and went on to a career in industry, working in physics and electronics, retiring from this some 10 years ago. From an early age he has spent his spare time climbing or running in the hills, but now has to fit in piano practice as well.

 

He has piano lessons with Rosemary Hamblett in Ulverston.

I met Jack Thompson at the Dulwich Piano Festival in 2012, at which he gave an atmospheric performance of Godowsky’s transcription of Isaac Albeniz’s sensuous ‘Tango’.

I have been playing the piano for (too) many years – say, 70. I enjoy playing Ravel, Debussy, J.S. Bach, and the Spaniards – Albeniz and Granados. I rarely try Beethoven, Mozart and Chopin – I have decided they are just too difficult to play and therefore to enjoy. But I have returned to Brahms recently and took pleasure from the ‘Intermezzi’.

I enjoy practising but find it hard to timetable it. In my younger days, I played a lot of jazz and wrote music for songs and revues. I also earned a bob or two playing in working people’s clubs in Lancashire and Yorkshire.

Latterly, I attended The Oldie magazine piano weekends for many years until the death of its much loved director, Raymond Banning, in December 2012. I had some lessons from him and they opened my eyes to the possibility of tackling material I otherwise thought too difficult.

Playing the piano is all part of an attempt to understand life and art in general. It is almost a religion. Together with reading and the writing I indulge in, plus attending theatre, film and art exhibitions (like the current Murillo at Dulwich Gallery), playing the piano persuades you to think through intellectual problems.

To adults considering taking up the piano or resuming lessons, I would say, in one word – “Patience”! But persist.

As for the one piece I would love to play perfectly it would be Ravel’s ‘Sonatine;, not least the third movement. I might swap that for ‘Evocacion’ in Albeniz’s Iberia suite. Hard to choose.

Jack Thompson was born in the north of England and studied Law at Trinity College, Cambridge. After a series of jobs – teacher, bus conductor, industrial spy and pianist in working men’s clubs –  he joined the BBC and eventually landed the post of foreign correspondent for the World Service. He reported from South East Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. He followed the Vietnamese army into Cambodia as it overthrew the Khmer Rouge and saw the grisly aftermath of Pol Pot’s killing fields. He was nearly blown to bits by militiamen in Lebanon and verbally pilloried by Saddam Hussein’s information ministry for a report on human rights abuses in Iraq. His bosses at the BBC described him as “curmudgeonly and subversive”, a badge he wears with pride.

Jack left the BBC in 1995 and became a newscaster for Deutsche Welle TV in Berlin. Since 2002, he’s written books and articles for a variety of periodicals. He’s played the piano again and tried to help with the upbringing of his grandchildren. In March 2006 Jack Thompson won the Scottish Association of Writers Pitlochry Award for Crime-writing with his first thriller ‘A Wicked Device’. That was followed two years later with another thriller ‘Breaking The Cross’.

Visit Jack’s website: politicalthrillers.co.uk

Entries are now open for this year’s Dulwich Piano Festival. See the website for further details, syllabus and entry form dulwichpianofestival.co.uk

How long have you been playing the piano? 

I guess, in total, nearly 20 years. I started when I was 7, and had lessons until the age of 18. Then restarted again at around 25-ish after spending too long at university doing science degrees.

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

I have very broad listening tastes – any type of music from anywhere really. I’m a composer too so I think listening widely is really important for broadening your musical horizons. I’m much more conservative when it comes to playing though. I recently discovered I love playing Bach, which is great for the fingers, brain and soul! I played a lot of classical repertoire at school, but now love playing the Romantics (Brahms, Chopin and Rachmaninoff particularly) and really enjoy Debussy. I’d like to learn some works from more modern composers too, particularly Kapustin and Ligeti. I also like playing jazz – Cole Porter, Fats Waller, Herbie Hancock, anything really.

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

I think people make time for what’s important. I love practising so I usually find time at the expense of other things (like exercise!). I play at least an hour a day, often more. Learning to play a really great piece is quite addictive I think – and really life enhancing to spend so much time in the company of a great work of art. Usually I play in the evenings, but sometimes manage 45mins before work too.

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

Yes, both, multiple times. My masterclass experiences have been mixed – some have been wonderfully enlightening and encouraging, and some rather soul destroying! I think it depends on how well you know the piece (don’t even consider doing it unless you know the piece absolutely inside out!) and the personality of the teacher. As for summer schools – I like to go to one every year or so, to sort of turbo-charge my enthusiasm for practising. I’ve been to Chetham’s a few times, which is amazingly invigorating but absolutely exhausting! I always come back fresh with new ideas for how to practice, and an enormous wish-list of pieces to learn. I’ve also done a week at Dartington and been to the COMA (Contemporary Music for Amateurs) summer school a few times, which are much more varied as they don’t just focus on piano. It’s always a real pleasure to meet like-minded people at summer schools and share you passion.

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

I think being challenged to think and hear in a different way is the most enjoyable aspect of lessons, as well as being introduced to new repertoire. The most challenging aspect of lessons is probably not playing as well as I know I can when I’m home alone. Which is really frustrating!

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

Fear of making an idiot of yourself! I was scared of having a memory lapse, as I always play from memory. Finding enough time and courage to practice the whole program in front of people can be a challenge too. But overall I’ve really enjoyed preparing for the two exams I’ve done as an adult (ATCL and LTCL performance diplomas).

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

I’ve certainly met more pianists through lessons, which has been great. I think playing piano and challenging yourself to continue learning has enormous benefits in all areas of life, and makes you more mentally alert.

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

Do it! But find a teacher who enthuses you and makes you want to practice, not one who makes you feel like you have to start from scratch every week.

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

Something very long – like Bach’s Goldberg Variations – so I didn’t run out of music!

Though actually it might be Chopin’s Fourth Ballade

Caroline Wright has an MMus in musical composition from the University of London, and a Licentiate Diploma in Piano Performance from Trinity College of Music, London. She is a scientist by profession, and blogs about musical memory at http://memorisingmusic.com.