Mentor – an experienced and trusted adviser


A mentor is not necessarily a teacher. The musician’s journey is a complex one, requiring many years of highly rigorous, focused training, and a consistent routine of work (practising) and performing and/teaching, and more…. While many of us have studied with particular teachers during this journey – teachers who have helped carve the path for us and form us into the musicians we are today – we may encounter or seek out others along the way to offer advice, support, encouragement and honest critique.

The most obvious definition of a musician’s mentor is someone you might play to – a master teacher (perhaps recommended by your regular teacher) or well-regarded musician who is able to offer a different perspective and insights on your music making which inform not only the evolution of a specific piece or pieces or music, but also your personal development as a musician. We might visit such a person on a number of occasions during our career – I know of several renowned concert pianists who still refer to a mentor for guidance.

A good mentor is able to offer advice and critique in an honest yet sympathetic way, providing support and inspiration, and instilling in one a sense of empowerment and personal autonomy – qualities which I believe are crucial in our ongoing development as musicians and which enable us to create our own artistic vision and persona. In addition, a mentor is a brain to pick, a sympathetic ear to listen, a nudge in the right direction and a guide in achieving one’s goals. The best mentor-mentee relationships are built on mutual trust and respect, and shared values, and while the mentor may be superior in knowledge and experience, there is a certain equality to a good mentor-mentee relationship.

Of course not all mentors are musical ones. We may seek advice in managing our career and dealing with the business side of being a professional musician, someone who can inform and guide us through the minefield of building a professional profile (including creating a website and online presence), approaching promoters, funding applications, tax planning and so forth.

Trusted friends and colleagues can also act as mentors, offering advice and support over a range of issues, musical or otherwise. I have a very good friend, a medic by profession and an advanced amateur pianist and piano teacher whom I regard as my mentor. His positive pragmatic approach (playing the piano is not a life or death scenario!), sheer pleasure in music making, and an ability to critique my playing honestly and helpfully without making me feel inadequate or insulted, has done more for my confidence as a performer and self-esteem as a musician in general than any teacher. Our friendship is founded on mutual respect and a shared enjoyment in playing the piano, exploring repertoire and attending concerts (and much more besides, as befits a deep friendship).

Another acquaintance, a concert pianist, has been helpful in acting as a kind of “coach”, challenging my interpretive choices and asking me to justify every decision made within the music (technical and artistic, specifically in relation to the late piano sonatas of Franz Schubert) in a way which was non-confrontational, stimulating and respectful. This was not “teaching” between master and pupil, but rather a more equal discussion about the music. One of many interesting outcomes of this particular relationship was when he told me our discussions had taken him back to his scores, to examine the music in new way in the light of our conversations. Thus, mentoring is a two-way exchange.

We may also cultivate “inner mentors” who resonate with us and who we have identified as offering us what we need for ourselves. These may include a fictional character or a great musician whom we admire. As we resonate with these mentors, we make them our role models, tune into their special qualities, and draw these into ourselves so that we can utilise and be inspired or motivated by them.

Having a mentor or mentors is not about dependency or neediness, but about growing, pushing boundaries, learning, exploring and allowing someone to guide you – more than you could do on your own – in a direction that is your own. Mentors can pave new internal ground too, giving one greater self-trust and confidence in one’s path and purpose.


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Does a mentor necessarily have to be a teacher? Of course not. A mentor is someone who offers guidance, support and inspiration, someone we might turn to for advice. Last night, I learnt that someone I regarded as a mentor, and also a friend, had died peacefully at home, surrounded by her family.

I first met Linda Kelly, and her husband Laurence (for whom I worked as a PA for 15 years until I moved out of London) in 2003. At that time, I was rather in awe of her – a published and highly-regarded author, she was doing something I aspired to. During the time I worked for Laurence, Linda completed three books – not slim volumes but carefully-researched tomes whose text sparkled with knowledge, intelligence and good humour.

My office was on the top floor of Laurence and Linda’s house in Notting Hill and her study was across the landing from where I worked. I learnt a lot about being a writer from observing Linda. She clearly had a routine and was at her desk every morning. In addition, it was quite evident that writing was an incredibly significant part of her life (along with her family and friends), and also a place to escape to. She felt that writing also provided an important contrast to family life and running a house, but I don’t think she ever regarded it as something exceptional or special – it was just something that she “did”.

When I started writing this blog and reviewing concerts, she would regularly read my articles and reviews, offering positive commentary on my writing. On my weekly visits to the house, she would always find time to come and chat to me, asking after my family, my son’s progress as a fledgling chef, and my own musical and writerly endeavours. Her view was that it was important to have an outlet, a place to go to, to escape – not necessarily to escape from the exigencies of everyday life, but rather a place where one could exercise and pursue one’s creativity. (In fact, she had experienced a number of complicated family health issues before and during the time I worked for her and Laurence, and I wonder if writing was also a form of therapy for her.) She was very generous and supportive of my writing, and also my musical activities and accomplishments, and to have that endorsement from someone whom I respected as a celebrated professional writer and also a friend was incredibly important to me. In addition, when my husband had to go into hospital in April 2017 for complex cardiac surgery, she simply hugged me and said nothing else – she knew that platitudes like “he’s in good hands” or “he’s in the right place” were not that helpful. Her sensitivity combined with a pragmatism and philosophical attitude to life (particularly in her last year when she was terminally ill) was something to admire, and emulate.

As we resonate with a mentor, we make them our role model, tune into their special qualities, and draw these into ourselves so that we can utilise and be inspired or motivated by them. Linda’s support and kindness will continue to inspire and resonate with me as I remember her with great fondness and gratitude.

Linda Kelly – writer and biographer