The second Diploma Day, brilliantly organised by Claire Hansell, who with Rob Foster, runs the London Piano Meetup Group, was held at Morley College on Sunday 9th July. As with last year’s inaugural event, the day was designed to give those taking performance diplomas a chance to perform selections from their diploma programmes to Graham Fitch and a small friendly audience, and receive expert tuition and guidance from Graham. In addition, Frances Wilson (AKA The Cross-Eyed Pianist) discussed the benefits of taking a performance diploma, which diploma to choose (all the main exam boards – ABRSM, TCL and LCM – offer a variety of diplomas), how to select repertoire and create a varied programme, and offered advice on stagecraft and presentation skills, and managing performance anxiety (see the end of this article for a link to download Frances’ notes). In the afternoon, Peter Wild, senior lead examiner from Trinity College London, joined the event and took questions from the audience.

There were fine performances, including a most impressive rendition of the Bach-Busoni Chaconne, Mozart’s Sonata K310, and a delightful Scherzo Humoristique (‘The Cat and the Mouse’) by Copland which closed the event on a very light-hearted note. Graham Fitch offered plenty of excellent advice on practising, technique, projecting one’s vision for the music, and good preparation, as always peppered with colourful metaphors and presented in an accessible and articulate manner. It was a most inspiring and supportive day, of benefit to adult amateur pianists and teachers alike.

Claire and Frances live-tweeted during the event – find a compilation of the tweets (plenty of pianistic wisdom) here

Download the DIPLOMA DAY 2017 notes (Word doc)

London Piano Meetup Group

The London Piano Meetup Group’s first Diploma Day, an event for people taking or considering taking a Performance  Diploma, took place in the Holst Room at London’s Morley College on Sunday 12th June. Six performers were invited to play some or all of their Diploma programme to an audience of c25 people and then receive a 30-minute one-to-one lesson with Graham Fitch. The event was intended to be friendly, supportive and inspiring to ensure that people felt as comfortable as possible when performing for others (for some this was the first time they had played in this kind of setting). The day was organised so that during breaks between teaching there was time for people to meet to discuss repertoire, performance anxiety and piano playing in general. I gave an opening talk on the need to treat a performance diploma with a professional mindset (including a full understanding of the exam syllabus and regulations, writing programme notes, stagecraft and managing performance anxiety) and the day concluded with a Q&A session at which we discussed various points which emerged from the day.

A number of themes became apparent in Graham’s tuition during the day, including:

  • Taking ownership of your music and playing with conviction
  • Playing with vibrant colour and expression to bring out the individual characters of each piece
  • Being pedantic about one’s preparation

Graham is an inspiring and empowering teacher – as one of the participants said “he is fantastic at getting to the nub of things quickly and it is hugely inspiring to performers and observers alike” – and everyone came away from the event with many gems of advice and nuggets of information to digest and act upon in practising.

Some comments from attendees:

“A really valuable and inspiring day”

“Really enjoyed it, especially watching Graham teach”

“A great experience for anyone around diploma level whether interested in the actual exam or not”

“It was such useful preparation

“Extremely valuable insights and advice from Graham Fitch

“Frances’s intro was a lovely welcome and very useful

Thank you to Claire Hansell of the London Piano Meetup Group for organising the event and to Graham Fitch for his expert and encouraging tuition.

A transcript of my introductory text can be downloaded here, and I’m also including links to other resources which are useful for those taking or thinking about taking a performance diploma.

Useful resources:

From these links to the three main exam boards you will find:

  • Syllabuses
  • Regulations
  • Information about exam sessions, deadlines for entry, entry fees and exam centres
  • Links to other useful resources for diploma candidates

Trinity College of London Diplomas (including information on teaching diplomas)

ABRSM Performance Diplomas

London College of Music Diplomas

Writing Programme Notes (ABRSM document)

Coping with Performance Anxiety

Why take a Performance Diploma?

For more information about the London Piano Meetup Group please email londonpianomeetup@gmail.com or join the LPMG Facebook group

I was delighted to rejoin the London Piano Meetup Group (a friendly and supportive group for adult amateur pianists in London which I co-founded in 2013) for the March performance event. We met in the airy upstairs studio at Peregrine’s Pianos where we had the opportunity to play a medium-sized August Förster grand piano (one of the many attractions of the group is the chance to play different pianos). There was, as usual, a varied range of repertoire from Scarlatti to contemporary British composer Cheryl Frances-Hoad, with some impressive and enjoyable Chopin, Debussy, Rachmaninov, Bach, Howells, Liszt, Mayerl and even a drop of “cocktail jazz” (‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’). Afterwards, we repaired to The Clerk and Well pub for a jolly lunch and lively piano chat.

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Upstairs studio at Peregrine’s Pianos

The original motivation for forming the group remains very strong – to provide a supportive and relaxed environment for adult pianists to meet, play for one another, share repertoire and socialise. I’ve made some very good friends via the group, as have others, and it was very nice to reconnect with old friends and make new ones too. The popularity of the group – and others like it – is an indication of how many pianists there are in and around London who enjoy the opportunity to meet and explore new or familiar repertoire. The chance to exchange ideas about practising, taking exams, performing, teachers and teaching, courses, concerts and more is also very important, and many people use the informal performance opportunities as a place to run repertoire by a friendly audience ahead of an exam, diploma, competition or festival performance.

Being sympathetic towards nervous players is a crucial component in creating a “safe place” where nervous or inexperienced players can perform without fear of criticism or negative comments: everyone’s performance receives warm applause and appreciation.

For further information about the London Piano Meetup Group or to join the mailing list to be kept informed about upcoming events, please email londonpianomeetup@gmail.com or find the group on Facebook

Related content

Courses and Summer Schools for Adult Amateur Pianists

 

Final of GPP/LPE adult amateur piano competition, adjudicated by Leslie Howard. Saturday 27 June 2015, All Saints Church, West Dulwich

If anyone needed proof of passion for the piano amongst adults look no further than the final of an amateur competition which took place last weekend in south-east London. A joint collaboration between specialist piano restorer and retailer Grand Passion Pianos and London Piano Events (formerly London Piano Meetup Group), the final brought together seven pianists whose playing demonstrated a high level of technical facility, artistry, musical understanding and committment. The first round (YouTube submissions) presented the judges with the unenviable task of selecting eight people to go through to the final.

The competition final was adjudicated by acclaimed international concert pianist Leslie Howard. The finalists had to cope with a church acoustic (great for the audience, but tricky to judge for those at the piano) and little or no time to warm up, and they all rose to the challenge with poise and confidence (any nerves were well disguised!). At the end of the competition, Leslie made some helpful and encouraging general comments, and everyone left with a sheet of more detailed comments on their individual performances.

The results of the competition were as follows:

Winner – David Griffiths

Mazurka op 17 no 4 – Chopin
Etude pour les arpeges composes – Debussy
Etude-Tableaux op 39 no 5 – Rachmaninov

Second place – Michael Cheung

Sonata in A-flat, Op. 110 (1st movt) Beethoven
Widmung – Schumann arr. Liszt
Prelude in G minor, Op. 23 no. 5 – S Rachmaninov

Third place – Claudia Lazarus

Litaney – Schubert arr. Liszt
Mädchens Klage – Schubert arr. Liszt
In Dahomey (“Cakewalk Smasher”) – Grainger

The Raymond Banning Trophy was presented to the winner by Lorraine Womack-Banning, whose late husband Raymond Banning was a concert pianist, professor of piano at Trinity College of Music, London and a keen supporter of amateur pianism.

Download the full programme here

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A stag with an impressive set of antlers surveys the room, while a white-tuxedo’d Tony Curtis keeps watch over the proceedings from his niche in a corner near the piano, a John Hopkinson baby grand with a rosewood case. Glittering chandeliers hang from the ceiling, illuminating the exposed brickwork on two walls of the room and highlighting the colours of the stained glass panels in the elegant sash windows. Exotic oriental rugs are draped over vintage British Rail first class seats, and at the back of the room, a glass cabinet is filled with antique pharmacy jars. Welcome to Brunswick House, part of the London Architectural Salvage and Supply Co, a Georgian mansion just five minutes from London’s Vauxhall Station, flanked by the brand new 5-star hotel and luxury apartments of One Nine Elms. Brunswick House is a treasure trove of antiques and salvaged curiosities, and on Thursday night last week, it provided a wonderful and eclectic venue for a fine evening of music making and conviviality.

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Lorraine Banning, Frances Wilson & Lorraine Liyanage (and Tony Curtis) at Brunswick House

“A superb evening – huge fun was had with a mix of musical genres in a delightfully decrepit and stylish Georgian mansion. Best of luck promoting these salon recitals, the way music is meant to be played and heard.”

Rosalind, audience member

The concert was part of the South London Concert Series, and featured a recital by BBC Music Magazine’s “rising star” Emmanuel Vass, together with supporting performances by three talented members of the London Piano Meetup Group, who despite not being “professional” pianists, played with equal poise, musical sensitivity and professionalism. The diverse programme matched the unusual setting, with music by Bach, Chopin, Turina, and Mozart together with Emmanuel’s own transcriptions of pop songs by Queen and The Prodigy. In keeping with the SLCS ethos of recreating the nineteenth-century musical salon, an hour of music was followed by much conversation and socialising in the ante-room next to the Saloon, and continued downstairs in the restaurant adjacent to the house.

View more photographs from the Brunswick House concert

 

On Saturday afternoon members of the London Piano Meetup Group met at Peregrine’s Pianos for a masterclass on improvisation with Dr Mark Polishook.

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Generally considered nowadays to the the preserve of jazz musicians, classical improvisation has become something of a lost art, but prior to the 20th century, pianists routinely improvised and there are accounts of Liszt and his contemporaries offering improvisations on suggestions from the audience at the end of concerts. Mark presented the activity of improvising not as something new or novel, or to be confined to the world of jazz, but as the reclaiming of a lost art and a necessary skill for pianists of all levels.

Four members performed works by Bach, Debussy, Menotti and an own-composition, and Mark worked with each person to guide them into improvising from a fairly basic starting point. For example, José, who played the Prelude in C Major from Bach’s WTC, used a basic C major arpeggio for the starting point for a simple, yet rather arresting, improvisation which encouraged us all to think about the sound, and the silences in between, as well as the harmonics the piano can create, which can be used as inspiration for further improvisation.

After David had played Debussy’s Jardins sous la pluie (from ‘Estampes’), he began his explorations into improvisation with a straightforward diminished 7th arpeggio. Mark demonstrated that by placing one arpeggio on top of another, or using scale patterns, some interesting and unusual harmonies and colours could be produced quite simply, creating an improvisation that suggested both Debussy and looked forward to Messiaen and beyond.

Petra then gave us a lively and assured account of Menotti’s Toccata. Mark encouraged her to think about an improvisation based first upon a repeated rhythm deep in the lowest register of the piano, thus demonstrating that rhythmic impulses can be the source of improvisation, as well as melodic or harmonic ideas. At this point, we also had a discussion about the ‘mystique’ of the performer and the idea of creating a ‘performance’ before one has even sat at the piano, playing on the audience’s expectations and “creating magic” within a performance.

Jennie was the last person to play, one of her own compositions. Mark introduced us to an iPhone app called Drum Genius, which allows you to play any number of drum beats, and showed once again that rhythm can be the starting point for improvisation.

This was a fascinating class which left everyone feeling very inspired and energised. It was as if we had all been given permission to go back to our pianos and free ourselves from our rigid classical training and simply enjoy the sounds and colours available from the instrument. Mark’s teaching style was engaging and friendly, endlessly positive and enthusiastic, and his tuition was peppered with interesting anecdotes about jazz musicians which more than added to the overall enjoyment of the event.

Details of other London Piano Meetup Group events can be found here

Dr. Polishook, who is from the United States, has had a varied career as a university professor (composition theory, music technology, and piano), a jazz pianist, and a multimedia and sound artist. He currently teaches through Mark Polishook Studio (http://www.polishookstudio.com) in Leicester and world-wide through Skype . Dr. Polishook writes about pianos, pianism, jazz, and improvisation on his Blog of the Improvised Line, also at http://www.polishookstudio.com.