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

Last weekend I ran a masterclass for members of the Hitchin Piano Club who are taught by a teaching friend of mine. It was the first time I’d taught adults in this format and I found the experience hugely enjoyable and stimulating – and I think the participants did too. In addition to one-to-one coaching while the others observed, we covered warm up exercises away from the piano, managing performance anxiety and finished the day with a listening game in which participants were asked to try to identify nationality, period and style of a selection of pieces chosen from Spotify. The day ended with me giving my friend a brief lesson, which was interesting for both of us and an important test of mutual respect and trust.

The commonest issue with adult amateur pianists tends to be performance anxiety – by which I don’t mean the fear of playing in an actual concert, but simply playing in front of other people. This anxiety has its roots in a number of places, including negative musical experiences in childhood and the simple, and entirely understandable, fear of making mistakes and feeling a fool in front of one’s peers. Whenever I discuss performance anxiety with any student, I stress that such feelings of anxiety are normal, natural and common – even amongst top-class professional musicians. Until fairly recently, performance anxiety – like injury – was not discussed amongst professionals. It was considered taboo to mention it for fear of admitting to a weakness, but recent projects such as Charlotte Tomlinson’s Beyond Stage Fright and interviews with leading musicians who have revealed their own anxieties and how they deal with them, has led to greater openness. Personally, I find a state of acceptance about the symptoms of performance anxiety, coupled with solid preparation of one’s music, can lead to greater confidence in performance, whether this involves playing in someone’s living room on a Sunday afternoon, as at our Piano Day, or in a formal concert.

The participants in Sunday’s piano day had not been taught in a masterclass format before and I tried to ensure that even while I was giving individual coaching, everyone found something useful in what I was saying and doing with the other student. In fact, the masterclass format can be one of the most useful and inspiring ways of being taught – one can learn a great deal by listening and observing, and I encouraged the others to comment on one another’s playing, including differences in sound and touch. We covered a number of technical aspects, such as rotary motion and lateral arm movement to help certain players release tension in their hands and arms, and to help them achieve the kind of sound they envisaged.

My main aim when teaching is to help students to achieve the sound and emotional content they desire in their music and to enable them to play with colour, expression and confidence. To achieve this, I use visualisation techniques in my teaching, asking students to explain what they like about the music they are playing, to describe the character of the music and ascribe a narrative or mental picture to it to help them create a vivid portrayal in their playing. Technique, such as a cantabile legato or particular type of staccato, gives us the tools to create timbre, mood and emotional impact in music, and technique must always be seen as something with a clear musical purpose. Combine solid technique with imagination and the rather elusive “artistic vision”, and one can create wonderful music, and play with confidence and authority.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable and very stimulating day and a pleasure to work with a group of such engaged and receptive students.

Repertoire played:

Mozart – Fantasy in D minor, K.397

Philip Glass – Metamorphosis 3

Beethoven – Sonata in F minor, Opus 2, No. 2 & Sonata in D, Opus 10, No. 3

 

Further reading

Masterclasses without tears

More than hobbyists – the world of amateur pianism

 

A portal into the classical music profession, Musical Orbit allows you to learn from the very best musicians in the business through personal lessons, masterclasses and webinars online. From anywhere in the world, you can connect with leading musicians from the finest orchestras across the globe to receive artistic appraisal and tailored, professional analysis of your playing. Also an online hub for the classical music world, Musical Orbit keeps you in the loop with news stories, tips from the top professionals and ticket offers for concerts.

Founder Nicole Wilson says:

“I had such fantastic opportunities when I was growing up as well as throughout and beyond my studies at Royal Academy of Music. With programmes like the Philharmonia String Scheme, I was able to get my foot in the door of the music profession and to build relationships with those who would be my future colleagues in orchestras. I was able to get some really great advice and learn about the business.

There are such limited places on these schemes and they really do enable people to get ahead in the industry. I have been approached by countless violinists asking me to hear them play, to give them advice on playing their audition/exam programmes and to desperately try to get a foot in that firmly shut door. It is a ‘catch 22’ situation for many of them as they leave music college. They have a tiny CV so they aren’t considered for job auditions, so they cannot grow their CV. I feel for them. This is why I created Musical Orbit.”

Nicole adds:

“……we are in talks with schools in the Middle East, Far East and Africa about setting up regular lessons and masterclasses and also talking with summer music Festivals in Miami and Reykjavik about masterclasses there as well”

Already Musical Orbit is enjoying a global reach, enabling people to connect and study with some of the top musicians in the world.

Sign up to Musical Orbit is completely free, and once you’re a member you can access free webinars and masterclasses, and also book a lesson with the best musicians in the business.

www.musicalorbit.com

Musical Orbit was founded by principal violinist Nicole Wilson. After a career spanning 20 years in London, as a first violinist of the London Symphony Orchestra, a principal violinist of English National Opera, a film/tv session orchestra fixer and CD producer, Nicole has enjoyed working with nearly all the major UK orchestras and has built friendships with many principal players across the nation and throughout the world. 

Having come across many music students who needed help preparing for auditions, concerts and exams, she realised the difficult situation many of those people were in. Unable to speak to and learn from the right people, build up their CVs and ultimately get to play for the jobs they were interested in, these students were in a no-mans land. 

Nicole has used her extensive connections in the classical music business to bring together these students and the movers and shakers in the classical music world, regardless of work schedules and distance so that anyone can learn from these world class musicians. 

Nicole will feature in a future ‘Meet the Artist’ interview

cons-inst-perf-mmusThe first Birmingham City University International Piano Academy (IPA) will run 14 July to 2 August 2014. This exciting three-week course is part of the Birmingham City University International Summer School. The IPA is designed to help pianists from across the world develop their interpretative, technical and platform skills.

There are concerts, masterclasses and lectures with leading international artists and renowned teachers, including Peter Donohoe and Julian Lloyd Webber, together with special interest events such as an exploration of playing Mozart’s music on different pianos, including the fortepiano and modern grand piano, allowing participants to discover the differences in phrasing, fingering and interpretation at different periods in history. Peter Donohoe will also give a lunchtime recital of works by Schumann, Scriabin, Tchaikovsky and Brahms. All events are free for those under 18 years of age.

Image credit: Peter Donohoe © Sussie Ahlburg
Image credit: Peter Donohoe © Sussie Ahlburg

In addition to this unique series of concerts, talks and other activities, the IPA offers a full programme of one-to-one tuition, group lessons and developmental activities.

The IPA is directed by Di Xiao, an international pianist, educator, writer and cultural ambassador.

Further details of the IPA here

Full programme of events brochure

http://www.dixiao.co.uk/